In order to celebrate Carlos’s and my birthday, we decided to book some holidays and go on a road trip adventure in mainland Greece. We went with no expectations, but these places really surprised us a lot and this ended up being one of my favorites trips ever in Europe!
Interesting facts about the city:
The rock pillars where the monasteries were built were formed approximately 60 million years ago by earthquakes and weathering.
Out of the original 24 monastery, only 6 remain. All six are in use; however many monks have left the site.
During World War II the site was frequently bombed. And, when the bombs were not being dropped, the monasteries were being raided for priceless works of art, which were stolen – never to be seen again.
The site is featured in the James Bond movie, ‘For Your Eyes Only’. It all takes place at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.
Carlos, Jane, Alejandro and I decided to do a road trip across Greece to celebrate our birthdays. The four of us lived together in Malta for over a year, but this was the first time we traveled together.
We landed in Athens and rented a car with Sixt for 5 days for 133€. As for accommodation, we stayed in a house called Kastraki Σπίτι με θέα and paid a total of 225€ for four nights. I totally recommend this place! We had a big house with a large outdoor space and a nice view to the Meteora mountains. Two friendly cats that live there were also a bonus!
Meteora (which literally means ‘suspended in the air’), a UNESCO World Heritage-listed place, is an eroded rock which monks have built their monasteries on so they could be closer to God. Twenty-four of these almost inaccessible monasteries were built during the 15th century despite incredible difficulties.
The rock masses were formed some 60 million years ago, their distinctive and varied shapes sculpted over time by earthquakes, rain, and wind. The sandstone megaliths on which the monasteries were built average 300 meters in height, with several reaching 550 meters.
Although 24 monasteries were built, each containing a church or two, monks’ cells, and a refectory, only 6 remain – Great Meteoron, Varlaám, Roussanou, St. Nikolas, Holy Trinity, and St. Stephen.
Great Meteoron is the highest, largest and oldest of the six monasteries of the Meteora. However, it was the only one of two we couldn’t visit inside, as it was closed.
Varlaam is the second largest monastery in the complex. It was built in 1541 and embellished in 1548. There is a church dedicated to All Saints, in the Athonite type (cross-in-square with dome and choirs), with spacious exonarthex which is surrounded by a dome.
Roussanou was founded in the middle of the 16th century and decorated in 1560. It occupies a lower rock than the others of the Meteora. St. Nikolas is another monastery, notable for its unique construction.
St. Stephen’s was founded around 1400. It has a small church built in the 16th century and decorated in 1545. This monastery rests on the plain rather than on a cliff. It was shelled by the Nazis during World War II who believed it was harboring insurgents and was abandoned. Nuns took it over and reconstructed it.
Last but not least, Holy Trinity. This monastery is very difficult to reach. You need to cross the valley and continue high up through the rock before arriving outside the entrance. The church is in the cross-in-square type with the dome based in two columns, built in 1475-76 and decorated in 1741.
There are a lot of well-preserved frescoes inside all of these monasteries. We paid 3 euros to enter each monastery, which is a very reasonable price. Before you enter, if you are a girl, shoulders must be covered and long skirts (provided at the entrance) need to be worn as a sign of respect, even if you were already wearing jeans.
The UNESCO has characterized the Meteora as a “monument of Humanity that has to be maintained“. They don’t belong only to Greece but also to the entire world and they are a unique harmonious matching of Byzantine architecture and natural beauty.
Meteora is a place where monks spend their days in prayer for the good of others. And they do this in one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. This is a place that seems to be created for peace and tranquility – the perfect haven for those looking to escape from the world.
From sunrise to sunset, the valley at Meteora shifts and changes. For Carlos’s birthday, we decided to go to the top of a mountain and watch the sunset from there, with some blankets, nice music and a bottle of wine. It was truly magical! We were listening to ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, just enjoying that amazing moment!
We stayed there till night, and then watched the stars and constellations, which was equally incredible. The moon and the stars cast a glow over the valley. There are no lights here, other than those in the sky, and you can not hope to count the number of stars your eyes can see.
To celebrate Carlos’s birthday we ate at this place called Meteoron Panorama. This girl that works there (Monica) was super friendly and the food was amazing! The oven-baked beef with four kinds of cheese was one of the best main dishes that I’ve ever eaten.
I can’t stress enough how nice people were to us all the time. If the economy wasn’t so bad, I would definitely move to Greece just because everyone is so nice! The best example of this was the lady from the bakery we went to every morning to buy bread and sweets for breakfast and the guy from the coffee place where we went to every morning to have coffee who let us eat there the sweets we bought outside. He was super friendly and was always taking our trash away and serving more water, etc. Amazing service! Usually, I don’t tip, but on this trip, I was tipping everyone!
I couldn’t find the name of the bakery nor the coffee place, but the latter is located in this house below and the bakery was right across the street.
Interesting facts about the city:
Ioanninna is one of the most beautiful cities in Greece. The island of Pamvotida Lake is the sole inhabited lake island in Europe. Only about 100 people live in that island!
For my birthday, since we had already visited Meteora and pretty much seen all the monasteries the day before, we decided to do something different and visit a cute town called Ioannina.
This charming city lies in the north-western part of Greece. Even though it barely makes it into the travel guides, it has a lot to offer. We had no expectations whatsoever and it really surprised us! Its narrow centric streets with bars and cozy coffee places, the castle walls and, mainly, the island in the middle of the lake!
Ioannina’s castle, with the famous southeastern citadel of Its Kale, and the stories of the colorful Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha (1740-1822) who ruled the city for 34 years before being executed by the Ottoman central government, help define the city’s unique atmosphere.
However, the main attraction of Ioannina for me was indeed Lake Pamvotida, an ideal place for long strolls along its banks. From the lake, you can see the Aslan Pasha Mosque building, which will make you feel like you’re in Turkey.
We took a small boat for 2euros to visit the island within the lake, which is home to beautiful monasteries and a few restaurants. This is the only inhabited lake island in Europe. There are not a lot of people living there, but, again, everyone was super friendly to us!
We bought a very good alcoholic drink from an old lady – which she produces with lots of honey and cinnamon, supposedly good as a digestive – and had some wine in a restaurant in the central square of the island, where the lady gave us some food for free to go with the wine. Amazing service!
After coming back from the island, we had my birthday dinner at Balsamico. Again, it was an excellent choice! I ate what’s in the picture – with chicken and cheese inside – and it was divine!
Pozar & Edessa
Interesting facts about the city:
Edessa is famous for its beautiful waterfalls. The falls are a natural phenomenon that arose after a strong earthquake that struck the surrounding area in the 14th century.
In Ancient times, there was a temple of a water-deity near Edessa waterfalls, which can be seen on some older paintings.
The most unique thing about Pozar Thermal Baths is the cold stream and waterfall located right next to the hot springs.
On our last full day in Greece, we headed to visit Pozar Thermal Baths. For couples and for groups of friends like us, the baths are a popular and wholesome alternative to a nightcap; the indoor private baths operate 24h a day and can remain full almost throughout the night, especially on weekends. A year-round destination, it attracts a mainly younger crowd on day trips in the cooler months. In the summer, older patrons often come for stays of a week or two.
There were three, two of them natural. It felt so nice being in that hot steamy water in winter when it was cold outside! And it’s very cheap – at just 2 euros each, enjoying both pools is an affordable indulgence. Pozar, which means “beneath the fire” in Slavic, is nature at its most luxurious, combining rugged beauty with pure sensual pleasure.
After being in the pools for a while, we explored its rugged side, hiking through the forested gorge for a bit. There are trails to suit every ability level, starting with a flat paved path following the Thermopotamos River.
Before leaving, we had dinner at Taverna Τo Χωριάτικο. After eating, we headed to Edessa to see the waterfall. The Waterfall Park in Edessa is nearly a must-see when in the region. Edessa itself lies on top of a rock-hill, and its famous waterfalls running down from the height of ca 70 meters to the valley below.
There is a well-arranged park with promenade-paths all around the area with 2 bigger waterfalls, one named Karanos, and the other a Double-one, and some smaller cascades of water and pools. It is possible to come behind the biggest waterfall and see waters fall down right in front of you, an imaginative picture on a sunny day – even though unfortunately we went there after sunset when it was already dark.
Interesting facts about the city:
Delphi was an important ancient Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the god Apollo.
Located on Mt. Parnassus, the sanctuary was home to the famous oracle of Apollo which gave cryptic predictions and guidance to both city-states and individuals. In addition, Delphi was also home to the panhellenic Pythian Games.
Delphi was also considered the centre of the world, as Zeus released two eagles, one to the east and another to the west, and Delphi was the point at which they met after encircling the world. This fact was represented by the omphalos (or navel), a dome-shaped stone which stood outside Apollo’s temple and which also marked the spot where Apollo killed the Python.
On our last day, before going back to Athens to catch our flight back to Malta, we made one last stop in Delphi. The name ‘Delphi’ was coined from ‘Dolphin’ because it is widely believed that Apollo first visited the region in the shape of a Dolphin. The city is well known as the seat of the high priestess of Apollo called Pythia. It was the city where guidance and predictions were given to humans in ancient times.
Since it was free of charge and still open after 3pm, we visited the Delphi Tholos, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a circular design and stands about 13.5m in height in the middle of the Athena Pronaia temple. Metopes were constructed on these buildings to depict different events.
There were a lot of other ancient monuments that we didn’t have the chance to visit, such as the Delphi Theatre, which was built in the same hill as the Temple of Apollo. The theatre was constructed with limestone in the 4th century. It has over 35 rows that can accommodate an audience of about 5000. Many events are still hosted here to date. The Treasury of Athens is another example. It was constructed in Delphi to accommodate offerings and dedications made to Apollo by Athenians.
After visiting the city, we ate at Υδρία Δελφοί, with an amazing view to watch the sunset over the sea and the mountains.
After spending 5 amazing days in Greece, it was time to go back home. As I mentioned before, even though we had no big expectations, this trip and the places we visited surprised me a lot and I had an amazing time! I definitely recommend everyone to not just visit the Greek islands but also the mainland.