Of the many ancient wonders in Greece, be sure to plan a visit to the monasteries in Meteora and the lively nearby town of Gavros. If you are using your GPS, there is a nice little café located on the main square at 39-47’58.19”N 21-35’48.73”E. If you are going early in the year in the February-March timeframe to beat the crowds, be sure to dress warmly. It can be cold and the winds are fierce on the sandstone towers where the monasteries are perched.
The construction of the monasteries date back to the early 1300s. Seeking refuge from the Turks who were interested in acquiring the fertile farm land of Thassaly, the monks constructed at least 20 buildings, each occupying the top of one of the naturally occurring sandstone towers. The only way to access the monastery was to be hauled up in a basket or to climb a rope ladder. This provided the monks ample protection and isolation since the walls of the sandstone towers are vertical and rise nearly 1,200 feet. Aspiring party crashers contemplating the climb must have found this situation a bit dicey.
The monasteries weren’t the only areas occupied by humans. If you carefully observe the cliffs surrounding Gavros, you will see all manner of caves. Some of these, like the cave of Theopetra, contain remnants of human existence that date back 50,000 years. Now, considering that we, humans like us, shared the planet back then with at least 3 other human species including Neanderthals and Denisovans, chances are the people living there were a bit different than your hairy neighbors. Jumping to the present, careful observation will reveal tarps and other modern paraphernalia adorning some of the caves. Modern day isolationists, no doubt.
A tour of one of the six remaining monasteries is worthwhile. Although you don’t need to take a basket or climb a ladder to get in, be prepared for a lot of stair climbing. Also be aware that four of the monasteries are inhabited by monks and two by nuns. Women will be given a billowy apron to wear while visiting. There is no such requirement for men. Remember, these are sacred places, so respectful behavior is mandatory.
Not so much for the town though, where you can let your hair down. Gavros has many a café, bar or restaurant to keep you occupied, lubricated, and otherwise satiated. It’s a bustling place, especially in high season. If you are planning to spend the night, plan accordingly. Many tourists use the town as a hub for outdoor adventures like hiking and mountain biking, the terrain being so spectacular, especially at dawn.
C 2012 Michael Krozer