Thursday, 3 January 2013

The monasteries of Meteora

If, for some reason, you despised Greek food, detested Zeus and his hedonistic family members, could think of nothing worse than scrambling over ruins all day, and were not interested in clear blue skies and sparkling clear water, I would still urge you to go to Greece just so that you could see the wonder that is Meteora (although, we couldn't go together, as I really love the other stuff).

It's incredible. On the one hand, it is so obviously centuries old, the style reflecting the times in which they were first constructed, the trees and plants below sitting comfortably within the rest of Greece. On the other, it could belong on an alien planet. Compared to the familiar craggy mountains of the rest of the country, the smooth pinnacles of rock reaching high into the sky, soft colours catching the light, are extraordinary and a little bizarre. When you spot the huge monasteries clinging to the tops of them, however, it really does seem out of this world.

It is a stunningly beautiful place. As we wound our way up the road, climbing steadily higher through low-lying pockets of cloud, I tried to imagine how the first monks in the 14th century scrambled up the sheer sides using ladders, or were later hauled up in nets. It's enough to give anyone vertigo. The monasteries themselves are beautiful, using the surrounding rock in their design and filled with painted frescoes and stunning viewpoints. The main monastery - Moni Megalou Meteorou, also has a fascinating museum which charts the its own history alongside that of the Greek Orthodox faith and its key figures, but check opening times as each monastery is closed on a particular day each week. As with the other monasteries, strict dress codes apply - men must wear trousers, not shorts, and women must have skirts below the knee, otherwise long wrap-around skirts are provided for use. Bare shoulders are also not allowed.

Just below Moni Megalou is one of many look out points, where with a little careful climbing you can stand atop a pinnacle of rock for a 360 degree panoramic view. In the late afternoon, as the sun drops lower, the whole area is enveloped in a hazy blue atmospheric mist.

The modern town nestled in the valley below is the perfect place to spend a night - the rocks soar in every direction, turning a deep orange as the sun sets, and the local restaurants serve up delicious fresh meals.

Meteora is one of the most stunning, and unique, places I have ever had the pleasure to visit. There's a very good reason why it is so popular amongst visitors to Greece - there's simply no-where else like it.


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