I’m at the intersection of arrow straight roads in a flat and orderly town. We’re sitting outside at a chic cafe- soft lighting, Miles Davis at a discrete volume- chatting with our amiable hosts about the next day, hiking through Meteora.

Meteora’s Geological Chaos

Across from us in this perfectly flat town is total chaos- the plain ends abruptly in a series of sharp cliffs, tall enough that I take the lone light of a convent atop one of them for a star. Tens of millions of years ago- much before the dinosaurs- this whole area was a lake. Then, the bottom of the lake with its eons’ worth of sedimentary layers- fossils embedded in them- was thrust hundreds of meters into the sky. How long did this take? “A space of hours, if not minutes.”-  Dimitris, our guide, grew up right here. He still seems at least as awed as the rest of us.

By the subtle lighting of night, we can only make out their scale. My room at the Hotel Famissi faces them, and in the dramatic dawn light they take shape. It’s all very Yves Tanguy. Winds rougher than any on the planet today sculpted them into wondrous shapes.

Meteora’s Popularity

Meteora is second only to the Parthenon in popularity. People come not just for the unique geological event but for the Monasteries (read more about them here)- improbably set on the tops of the rocks since the 14th C. I’m here with a group of friends- Travel Bloggers Greece– and we’ve been kindly invited by Meteora Thrones Tours to experience the region in all its variety and splendor. I have been to Meteora once before, on a day trip. I remembered being impressed, but it’s a general impression. Now I know why- Meteora is vast, intense, frankly bizarre. It’s difficult to take in at a glance, or even an afternoon. Hiking through Meteora, you really get a chance to experience the majesty of its unique geology. You need time simply to live it, let the majesty of it in all its aspects sink in. Many visitors to Greece come on the morning train from Athens, with tickets booked on the last train back in order to spend the afternoon. They always exclaim they had no idea how impressive it would be, and that they ought to have planned to stay the night. Our hosts have arranged an itinerary to let the majesty of it unfold over two days.
Hiking through Meteora with a Guide
There is a great advantage of having a guide who grew up next to Meteora. Dimitri has  a keen sense of the life of the place- the shifting moods of light and weather, the times of day each place is seen to its advantage, how to embrace the drama of the changing moods of weather and nature. Out first of three planned tours is the Meteora hike, ideal for quite literally grounding us in the vastness of the landscape.

Great Meteora

We start at the aptly named Great Meteora- the largest of the Monasteries with by far the most to see. In addition to the Chapel, there are exhibitions of tools for the making of wine and vinegar, the old kitchens, a war museum, and an ossuary. Ossuary not withstanding, what it lacks in a contemplative atmosphere it makes up for in interest. It’s easy to imagine the daily lives of the monks over the centuries. Our mountaineering guides, Vanna and Christos, keep us company, and when we have seen all, we begin our hike. Great Meterora is reachable by a long path of more than 300 deep stairs of wood and earth.

Varlam from Great Meteora

 

Meteora’s Dramatic Landscape

We start our hike descending the same path the monks used for centuries into a lush valley,

pausing at a vast plane tree. This is a small portion of it- a woman with arms turned branches like Daphne there in the middle. The tree illustrates musings on faith, its common roots, and the branches diverging from one another. There is a sacred mood in every leaf of the place, more here than in the displays of the monastery.
Varlam from the valley below
From here we climb back up a path just rocky and steep enough to make it feel like a hike rather than a walk. We arrive at Varlam monastery with heightened color. There’s a cart with espresso and some stands selling religious souvenirs. From here, we continue all the way down the mountain. We take in the vistas-
The vista from a meadow. That’s Jelena of Serbian Girl in Greece
and the geology-
A crevice cut by centuries of rain water.
The black moss covering the rocks turned green the next day
after a light morning rain.
The shapes, textures, and colors of the composite limestone
the wildlife that keeps us company-

and we eat flower petals,

Elena of Passion for Greece tries the petal of a flowering quince tree.

velvety tangy green almonds, wild mint, and drink from a stream so clear you would only know it’s there from the blossoms floating on it-

Meteora’s Cuisine

The hiking tour is a great way to experience the vastness, to know what it is to be here.
About four hours later, we’re back in a comfortable bus with enormous windows glowing from the exercise, excited about everything we have seen. And very hungry. To go with one of the best views I have seen in my life, I have one of the best dishes (seriously, the best thing I have eaten so far in 2016)-
a melting, rich, delicate eggplant saganaki, the house specialty made by Kiria Palmyra of Meteora Restaurant, who treated us to a lunch of homestyle chic regional classics. You don’t expect a charming restaurant with a great view in the center of a town built around tourism to have fabulous food, but sometimes, everything is absolutely perfect.
Our hosts- the Meterora Thrones Team.
Travel Bloggers Greece were hosted by Meteora Thrones Tours and the Famissi Hotel (there is also a Famissi Eden- 4 stars, nice pool). Opinions my own (incredible tours, and I would pay to stay at the Famissi- courteous, comfortable bed, great view, and the best shower of any hotel I have been at in a long time.)
You can find Meteora Thrones Tours on fb too-https://www.facebook.com/meteoratourontime

Hiking through Meteora, a Geological Wonder
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