Meteora’s Varlaam Monastery Is A Must-See During A Visit to Greece’s Thessaly Region

Tired and excited. These two words are probably the best adjectives to describe how I felt after climbing up one part of the rock formation that is known as Meteora during our beloved trip to Greece. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Greece’s Thessaly region, Meteora is situated near the city of Kalambaka (also known as Kalampaka or Kalabaka) and is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the country’s mainland. So what exactly is Meteora?

It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s basically a region filled with tall sandstone pillars, six of which are home to Eastern Orthodox monasteries. And, we visited the second largest monastery of the community–the Varlaam Monastery–during our trip.

A partial view of Meteora from our tour bus

I had already heard that getting up to the Varlaam Monastery, which was built in 1541, would require us to climb a bit…okay, a lot! I just never expected my pulse to increase so much during our ascent that I’d end up feeling like I’d just finished a marathon. But, alas that’s exactly what happened. So, I decided to sit still for a minute on a bench once we arrived at the top since my heart was racing. (FYI, I’ve since found out that the cliffs leading to the monastery are more than 1,000 feet high. That explains why I felt the way I did!)

Varlaam Monastery

Once I felt more like myself, we walked inside the magnificent building–which is still inhabited by monks–and saw beautifully-painted frescoes on the ceilings and walls. If you have a chance to visit the Monastery with a tour guide, pay close attention when they are talking about the paintings so that you’ll understand the faith-based messages depicted in them. There’s also a museum on site, so make sure you set aside time to explore it and learn about the interesting relics that are on display in different areas.

Detail on ceiling of Varlaam Monastery

I also encourage you to look for the room in which a large 16th century oak barrel that was used for water storage is on display. That was a very popular room for tourists when we were there. There’s also a gift shop in case visitors want to take home a souvenir for themselves or someone else.

Finally, although the inside spaces are noteworthy and shouldn’t be missed, I must add that your visit will not be complete if you can’t also spend some time in the outdoor space (which reminds me of a patio) to appreciate the stunning view of the town below and the other nearby monasteries. It was exciting to be able to see so much and so far from that vantage point. (Note: If you’d like to see a clip showing more of the view that we had from up there, head over to my YouTube Channel and click on the link of the introductory video.)

Family photo taken at the Varlaam Monastery

By the way, the monastery’s dress code–which our tour guide shared with us ahead of time–requires that all visitor’s legs be covered. My husband wore long pants that day and I wore capri-length pants. However, my girls happened to put on denim shorts when they got dressed that morning. So, each of them simply packed a long skirt in their backpack and pulled it on over their shorts before we entered the monastery. Please make sure you and your family plan ahead, as well, so you won’t be denied admission to this interesting place.

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