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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map