Travel: And some Greek monasteries that you are allowed to visit

Many Greek monasteries (away from Mount Athos) are open to the public for restricted hours and will admit men and women if properly dressed - no shorts, mini skirts, bra-tops or vests. Some will provide clothes to put over your own but be prepared for the indignity of looking like a 1970s Soviet peasant in front of your loved one/friends if you go for this - the 1980s, let alone the 1990s never happened, sartorially speaking, for your average Greek monastery.

If you are off the beaten track, you could take advantage of an old tradition that lingers in remote areas of the mainland of providing accommodation for travellers (strictly single sex, women in convents, men in monasteries). It is sensible to ring before turning up and try to make it there before 8pm or sunset whichever is earlier. And don't expect luxury or an en-suite bathroom - you will be put up in one of the tiny monkish cells that the residents inhabit.

It is worth making the effort to get off the beach and seek out sacred places in Greece, and not just monasteries. The countryside is dotted with tiny whitewashed churches, packed full of icons and set in tranquil locations. Most have pine trees strategically positioned beside benches in the grounds so the weary, sticky walker can cool off and contemplate. One of the more enchanting habits of the Greek Orthodox church, and one which has been adopted by Greeks building houses today, is to position their places of worship smack on the top of hills. The views are usually fantastic.

Monasteries do not generally charge admission but they often sell postcards (much more charming than the tourist cards), miscellaneous iconography and sometimes home produce - honey, lace and so on. It is the done thing to buy something, or to make a donation.

The following monasteries are some of the more noteworthy but wherever in Greece you end up, you will be close to a sacred building worth visiting. One of my most precious memories is of watching the sun go down over the Aegean, sitting on the steps of a tiny monastery, no longer inhabited but with its minuscule church intact, so remote that it had been used by the resistance to hide allied servicemen during the war. I was there in the middle of August and no more than two miles from the main tourist town of the island, yet I was entirely alone.

Monasteries of the Meteora

Made famous by appearances in films including For Your Eyes Only, these buildings, perched on columns of rock that appear inaccessible, are in a valley to the north of Kalambta in central Greece. Legend says that Saint Athanasios, who founded the earliest of the buildings, flew up to the rocks on the back of an eagle. In fact religious hermits first moved into the caves here in the late 10th century. The area reached its heyday in the 16th century when 24 of the rocks boasted monasteries and hermitages, but has declined since. Today the four most accessible monasteries and convents are basically monuments for the tourist trade and only two continue primarily as monasteries. Allow a full day to visit.

Ossios Louks Monastery

Near Delphi, this is one of the great buildings of medieval Greece, the product of a flourish of Byzantine art that predicted the last outpouring which produced the celebrated churches of Mystra. The setting is also wonderful, remote and opening out onto the peaks and countryside of Elikonas. The monastery is small with two churches: the 11th century Katholikon which became a much-copied blueprint for Byzantine octagonal-style churches, with a glorious interior of red and green marble and gold mosaic; and the Theotokos, 100 years older and grey in comparison. Although a handful of monks still live here, the place is essentially maintained as a museum.

The Monastery of Mega Spilia

This is famous as the oldest monastery in Greece (dating from the fourth century) but it has burned down and been rebuilt so many times - the last in the 1930s - that there is little sense of this. Its heritage is reflected instead in its collection of treasures which is outstanding - as, incidentally, is the view. There is charred image of the Virgin which is said to have been made by St Luke. Men can stay overnight.

Monastery of Arkadhi, Crete

Around 25km south-east of Rethimnon, this has national as well as religious significance. During the 1866 rebellion against Turkey it became a Cretan stronghold and as the fighting turned against them, guerrillas and local people took refuge here. As the Turks prepared to storm the building the defenders blew up their stores of ammunition. Hundreds, possibly thousands of Cretans and Turks died. The vault where the explosion occurred has been left without its roof as a memorial but other parts of the grounds and buildings have been restored. One of the finest pieces of Venetian architecture on the island, a Rococo church, survived the explosion.

Monastery of Saint John

It was in a cave on the beautiful Dodecanese island of Patmos that St John the divine had his revelation. The imposing monastery in his name was founded in 1088 and dominates the island from its hilltop position, guarded by solid fortifications. It houses an amazing collection of religious relics, books and other treasures dating back to the earliest days of Christianity. Make the effort to walk up the hill, then you can stop half way at the Monastery of the Apocalypse, a more modest affair but built around the actual cave where God spoke to John. For 700 years the monks here ran the political affairs of the island and they still have a say - tourism is notably more muted here than in neighbouring islands.

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing