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Jaw-dropping.

It’s a descriptor I’ve had multiple writing professors warn me against. And I understand why. It’s cliche, and it’s more or less meaningless considering how often it’s used to describe something that barely elicits a jowl droop. But what about those times your mouth actually does fall open in awe at the sight of what lies in front of you?

That’s what happened to me at Meteora.

Traveling to Meteora

My expectations were stratosphere-high the morning I woke up in Kalambaka, ready to finally lay eyes on the clifftop monasteries I’d heard and read so much about. Every person I know who’d been struggled to find words to describe the experience, and photos appeared to be from a movie set rather than an actual non-fictional space on this planet. The previous day’s exploration of Delphi had only heightened my anticipation.

And as the bus heaved around the final bend, and the first limestone cliffs emerged in the distance, there was only one way to describe the scene ahead: jaw-dropping.

Meteora, Greece

Meteora

Meteora

I was on day two of a , a tour I’d signed on for to maximize my extremely limited time left in Greece and finally scratch my Meteora itch. The historically important area was originally home to twenty four Eastern Orthodox monasteries, of which six still remain. Five monasteries are open per day, with the rotating sixth taking a turn being closed to visitors, so the monks or nuns may pray in peace. Our guide would take us on guided tours to two, starting with The Holy Monastery of Varlaam.

Monasteries of Meteora

Monasteries of Meteora

Meteora Monastery

After huffing the steep steps from the parking lot, donning modesty skirts and shawls, and being dutifully handed our thin paper tickets, our tour guide Joy gathered us close. For once I listened intently to a guide’s words rather than scurry away with my camera, and marveled at the history that had seeped deep into the walls over the past seven centuries.

And then eventually, you know, I scurried away with my camera.

Monasteries of Meteora

Monasteries of Meteora

Monasteries of Meteora

Meteora Monastery

Greek Monastery

Photography is not allowed within the inner sanctums of the buildings, but there was plenty to play with within sanctioned areas.

“So are you a professional photographer then?,” one of my fellow tour members asked, as I obsessively tried to capture the Greek flag flapping in front of a squinting sun. “No, just an asshole with who likes to pretend to be one,” I replied, and we cackled in unison. I was starting to appreciate these tour groups, and their built-in audience to my bad jokes.

Monasteries of Meteora

Greek Monastery

Meteora, Greece

One of the most amazing aspects of the monasteries? They were built without roads or paths up to the doors — materials were lifted using pulley systems that are still in use today. I stood at the bottom of the Holy Monastery of Varlaam for a full twenty minutes before we left, just watching the basket be lifted and lowered from the tower above. A relic from another era, still in use today.

Which makes visiting Meteora a lot like going back in time.

Greek Monastery

Between our two monastery visits, we pulled over to the side of the road at a viewpoint where we could admire the unique topography of the valley. Meteora literally means “suspended in the air,” and I could see why. The cliffs looked like the fingers of the Earth, trying to claw their way into the sky.

Formed by earthquakes, smoothed by water and wind, these cliffs form one of the most distinctive landscapes I’ve ever seen.

Viator Tour of Meteora

Meteora, Greece

Viator Tour of Meteora

Cliffs of Meteora

At one point, our guided pointed out a cave filled with fabric and clothing, a tradition kept up by the local villagers from nearby Kastraki.

Meteora Cave

Our next stop was Agiou Stefanou, the only monastery populated by nuns rather than monks. While this monastery was perched much closer to ground level, the surroundings were no less dramatic.

Viator Tour of Meteora

Viator Tour of Meteora

Viator Tour of Meteora

The monasteries of Meteora are indeed flooded with tourists — at least in the summer. Joy confided that her favorite time to visit is in the winter, when there’s a light dusting of snow on the ground and no footprints from fellow tourists to mar it. Yet regardless of the number of people I was sharing the experience with, Meteora had an unshakeable spiritual air.

Monasteries of Meteora

Meteora Monastery Ticket

Meteora Monastery Visit

While ideally I would have spent several days based in Meteora, visiting all the monasteries and taking part in some of the adventure travel opportunities in the area, sometimes compromises have to be made. This tour involves a significant number of hours on the road, and there is no time to enjoy either the beautiful hotel you stay in or the modern versions of the ancient cities you visit. Regardless, I’m so grateful there is an option out there that allowed me to make it to Meteora in the days I had left in Greece.

And there were bonuses — the views from the bus seat made the hours pass quickly, and the alternative for those trying to replicate the route independently are pretty nightmarish (there is no direct public transportation from Delphi to Meteora, meaning either multiple bus transfers or an extremely expensive private transfer). Our hotel and both meals included there were lovely. Our guide Joy was, well, truly a joy. While I wasn’t overly impressed with the typical tourist restaurants we were bussed to for our non-included lunch both days, Joy happily pointed me in the direction of where I could walk to grab to cheap gyro instead. All in all, it was the perfect note to end my pitch perfect time in Greece — and Europe — on.

Meteora, Greece

Meteora, Greece

Viator Tour of Meteora

Monasteries of Meteora

My first trip to Greece was a tease, just a week — enough to know I wanted to come back someday, enough to know I really liked the place. This time, leaving Athens almost a month after I first passed through — this was enough to know that I love this country, that I want to come back again and again.

Recently a friend and I made a list of every country we’d ever been to, and then challenged each other to pick our top five favorites. It was a struggle to narrow down out of my twenty-six, but when I finished, there was a scrawled ballpoint pen heart marked firmly next to number thirteen: Greece.

Meteora, Greece

This post was brought to you by the iPhone video editing app .  I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.

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77 Comments...
  • Miquel
    December 1 2014

    Jaw-dropping indeed! Beautiful pictures as always. I can only imagine what it’s like in person.
    Miquel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      As beautiful as photos of Meteora can be, they really pale in comparison to seeing it in person! You simply must go, someday 🙂

  • Caity
    December 1 2014

    You’ve convinced me Meihoukai! Greece has been bumped up my travel list! Despite being geographically close (well relatively) as I live in the UK, Greece has never really called me (shock I know!). Your coverage has really shown the diversity of the area which has really opened it up to me. Highlighting that there are parts that I defo must see, of course, Meteora being up there (and an island or two, or three or…).

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Indeed! I’m glad I’ve been able to see and appreciate something other than the islands, as amazing as those are.

  • Silvia @ Heart My Backpack
    December 1 2014

    I’ve read several blog posts about Meteora recently, and your photos in this one might just have pushed me over the edge. I need to go there!
    Silvia @ Heart My Backpack recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Oh really! I know Liz of Young Adventuress, Amanda of A Dangerous Business, and Sean of Cracked Compass have all been. Is there someone else I need to know about?

      • Silvia
        December 1 2014

        Right? There’s been so much love for this place that it must be a sign. I remember some people going after TBEX – Jessica at Curiosity Travels also wrote a beautiful post about it.
        Silvia recently posted..

  • Sonja at Breadcrumbs Guide
    December 1 2014

    So beautiful, Meihoukai! Meteora was totally off my radar and now it’s definitely on my list. Nice job on the sun behind the flag photo. And all of the other amazing photos, too! If you were to do it again, would you spend more time in the area or did you feel like it was enough?
    Sonja at Breadcrumbs Guide recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Ideally I would have definitely spent more time there, but I knew that before I even arrived! When I weighed up my time and budget, this was the best option, though in a perfect world I would have stayed a few days. I always like to linger longer.

  • Tyrhone
    December 1 2014

    Man that country is sensational, I spent a month in Greece all those years ago and seem to have missed so much. Looks like a great place for a road trip! Around those monasteries would be a perfect place to break out the paramotor! 🙂
    Tyrhone recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      This would be a GORGEOUS spot to see aerially! Please do it so I can see the photos 🙂

  • Emily
    December 1 2014

    Yep – Greece is definitely one of my most favourite countries. I would love to check out Meteora, it looks incredible!
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Sounds like a reason to return to one of your favorite countries 🙂

  • becky hutner
    December 1 2014

    gorgeous magic hour shots of the cliffs! and i love the foliage- shrouded cross. you’ve certainly managed to capture the epic-ness of this place!
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Thanks Becky! It’s a seriously tall order… glad I’m coming close!

  • Ashley
    December 1 2014

    If the photos are this gorgeous, I can only imagine what it would be like to see Meteora in person!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      I think you should find out for yourself 🙂 Everyone should!

  • Alana - Paper Planes
    December 1 2014

    These photos are gorgeous – I’m SO BUMMED I couldn’t make it to Meteora recently!
    Alana – Paper Planes recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      A good reason to go back! I’ll meet ya there!

  • Ah, Greece <3 As always, you've managed to show all its beauty. I totally get why you're hooked.
    Miriam of Adventurous Miriam recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      I miss it already. Such happy memories!

  • Leah
    December 1 2014

    Someday I hope to be as talented an “asshole with a big camera who likes to pretend to be a professional photographer” as you are. This place looks magical!
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Ha ha. I didn’t say I wasn’t good at pretending!

  • Karen @ Lots of Sheep
    December 1 2014

    Just like everyone else has said, your Greece posts have made me desperate to go! Hope you had a good Thanksgiving and (belated) welcome home!
    Karen @ Lots of Sheep recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Thanks Karen! It’s good to be back for a bit.

  • Laura
    December 1 2014

    What a stunning place, I’d never heard of it until recently but it looks amazing. I’ll miss your Greek posts now!
    Laura recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Ha, aw, good! I’m glad you aren’t sick of them! I’m sure there will be more again someday 🙂

  • Emily
    December 1 2014

    How beautiful! That black and white photo near the end is particularly breathtaking. As a Classics major, this post is right up my alley. Can’t wait to get there myself! Thanks for sharing Meihoukai 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Ah, most of Greece would be up your alley Emily! You’ll love it when the time comes.

  • LOVE! So many people have been visiting Meteora lately and now I just have to go there – stunning and definitely jawdropping 🙂
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      Ha, funny how we all travel in a pack!

  • Karyn @ Not Done Travelling
    December 1 2014

    I’ll admit Meihoukai, when I saw your title I expected some run-of-the-mill churches, and although I like churches and cathedrals, at some point you get a real seen-one-seen-them-all feeling. But then I looked at your photos and I was like, “Holy crap”.

    I have no idea how they manage to keep the buildings perched on the cliffs like that. I would just be terrified that they would fall down in heavy rain or something. lol.

    It definitely sounds like it’s worth the long trip to get there. Bucket listed. 😀
    Karyn @ Not Done Travelling recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 1 2014

      I have to admit that I almost never go to churches or cathedrals when I travel. I just cannot get excited about them! But these were different. I couldn’t get enough!

  • Oh, wow. What an incredible part of the world, those monasteries – I have no words! By the looks of your photos, jaw-dropping might even be an understatement 🙂
    Christie of The Butterfly Editions recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      And they are even more beautiful in person! There truly are no words — which made this a fairly difficult blog post to write, ha.

  • Justine
    December 2 2014

    Some places are completely worth sharing with hordes of tourists. And Meteora definitely seems like one of those places. It is just so, so cool! It’s absolutely incredible that they constructed the monasteries using a pulley system. I was wondering how they did it. Jeez, it must have taken an eternity to build them!
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      And next time I go back, I really need to learn more about that 🙂 This time, my brain was turned to mush by all those views!

  • Ligeia and Mindy
    December 2 2014

    Another great post Meihoukai. You always find the coolest place to visit and document it so well. 🙂
    Ligeia and Mindy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      Thanks! The key is lots of research… I don’t always have time before a trip but when I do, it so pays off.

  • Ahah well yeah jaw dropping seems like the most appropriate term here .. 🙂 Such an incredible place, wish I could visit it as well soon!
    Pam | a Blonde around the World recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      It was just amazing Pam! Can’t say enough good things 🙂

  • korin
    December 2 2014

    Amazing photos, those mountains are amazing and the fact that some thought to build something on top of them is admirably.
    I agree jaw-dropping.
    korin recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      I would love to know who first came up with the idea… and what look he got when we told others about it, ha!

  • Amanda
    December 2 2014

    This is so incredible! I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be to see these incredible monasteries in real life. It reminds me a little bit of Mont St. Michel in the north of France, but also makes me think of an article some of my university classmates wrote about pilgrimages to a variety of monasteries and religious sites. 🙂 If you want to check it out, you can find it at
    Amanda recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      Thanks for sharing that Amanda! I’m not normally one to flock to religious sites but I’m glad this one caught my eye.

  • Stef
    December 2 2014

    It’s great that you wrote about it. It already looks breathtaking on the photos and I hope to be able to go there one day too.
    Stef recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      You’re so welcome Stef… hope it inspires others to go 🙂

  • Shaun's Cracked Compass
    December 3 2014

    Great summary and I’m so happy you got to experience them. I asked a Monk for a ride in the pulley basket and he just shook his head.

    I had a chance to rip around on a motorbike, not just to the monasteries but the other roads in the area and found many other amazing vistas to view the area and, what I can assume were offerings or prayer boxes on the hill tops.
    Shaun’s Cracked Compass recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      Haha. I love the vision of you asking a monk that! And wow, I can’t think of a more perfect way to explore this area than by motorbike. For some reason though I am really intimidated to rent and drive them anywhere outside Southeast Asia…

  • Gosh, Meteora looks stunning! The place have been nowhere near my travel radar…but that’s gonna change now 🙂

    The monastery reminds me of Chufut-Kale in Crimea a bit.
    [email protected]’s Travelgram recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      I’ve never heard of that before… off to look it up!

  • Volos Meteora
    December 3 2014

    Most people think that Greece is just the Aegean islands and Athens. Beautiful they may be, but they are not the only places worth visiting in Greece. Continental Greece has so many, little-known worthwhile sights; Delphi (read this post of yours too) and Meteora are definitely among them.
    I loved your photos, but I have to agree with you, they pale in comparison to the real thing. I’m not much of a photographer, but I think it is impossible to capture the feeling these rocks, huge and so spiritual at the same time.

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      As much as I love Athens and the Aegean islands, I am so grateful I got to see a bit more of Greece. There is so much to appreciate!

  • Amanda
    December 4 2014

    Holy wow is right! I LOVED Meteora, even though I was only there briefly, too. I definitely want to go back someday. Lovely shots, as always!
    Amanda recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      If we ever overlap in Europe, I propose a joint return trip!

  • Angie Away
    December 4 2014

    I’ve now been to Greece twice and Meteora ZERO times. *face smack* It’s a must next time I visit. Gorgeous pics!
    Angie Away recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 4 2014

      I’m up for making our third trip a combo 🙂

  • Laura
    December 5 2014

    Looks like a spectacular experience! Now totally convinced that I need to spend about a month in Greece 🙂
    Laura recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 10 2014

      It was just barely enough 🙂 I can’t wait to return even again!

  • Rae Morgan
    December 7 2014

    Maybe I’m just, you know, sensitive, but I started to get a little teary-eyed looking at these photos. And your description of them! Wow!
    Certainly adding this to my Europe bike trip.

    BTW ALEX You are not an ass hole with a big camera!
    Rae Morgan recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 10 2014

      Ha, thanks Rae 🙂 I was just being silly! And I don’t blame you… I get teary pretty often when I’m awed!

  • Anna
    December 7 2014

    Too funny – a photo of this is actually the desktop background on my computer and I had no idea where it was from before reading this post! I think I came across it on Pinterest or something and thought “WOW.” Glad I know where it is now & can add to the neverending travel bucket list…
    Anna recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 10 2014

      Ha! I’m glad I could solve the mystery for you…

  • Jimmy Dau
    December 8 2014

    Love closeup detailed photos. Most of the one’s I’ve seen from everybody were just from afar.
    Jimmy Dau recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 10 2014

      I always love to challenge myself to photograph well loved places in new ways 🙂 Thanks Jimmy!

  • Chris
    December 9 2014

    Jaw-Dropping looks to be totally appropriate here!

    Just don’t use it too often or we’ll all be insanely jealous (you must be somewhere pretty wow)!

    It was somewhere I’d hoped to get to when we visit next year.

    Now it’s a definite! 😉
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 10 2014

      Glad to hear that Chris — it’s well worth the journey!

  • Tawny of Captain and Clark
    December 9 2014

    GAH! We SO wanted to visit Meteora while we were in Greece. Sadly, we didn’t make it this last trip but it’s high on our list for our next visit. Maybe we should rendezvous?
    Tawny of Captain and Clark recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 10 2014

      Heck yes! You know I was having some serious FOMO while y’all were there!

  • Helen
    December 10 2014

    Another gorgeous post, Meihoukai!

    Thanks for being such an inspiration for me and my blog!

    • Meihoukai
      December 14 2014

      You are so very welcome, Helen! Thank YOU for reading 🙂

  • Rebecca
    December 25 2014

    Okay, so I think you were justified in using the cliched word! 🙂 I’ve never heard of Meteora, but you’re right, jaw-dropping.
    Rebecca recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 26 2014

      I hope it captivates you like it did me, and you find yourself there sooner than you think 🙂

  • Elias Tsonis
    November 29 2016

    I’m just a local and don’t see my country as a tourist.
    I’m very happy you didn’t either. Very good work!

    ΕΥΧΑΡΙΣTΩ ΠΟΛΥ!

    Ηλίας Τσώνης

    • Meihoukai
      December 5 2016

      Thanks Elias! Always a good sign to earn the kudos of a local!

  • Andrew Darwitan
    December 29 2016

    Wow, indeed. The beauty of Meteora is really on a whole different level, isn’t it? I had the chance to visit it during sunset and the view is just amazeballs! A really must-do when in Greece. =)
    Andrew Darwitan recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 30 2016

      I only wish I’d spent longer 🙂 On my next trip to Greece, I will!