GREECE – Kalambaka// For Your Eyes Only (1981)
While it was common in the 19th century to climb up to the Metéora Monasteries with ropes and corded ladders, it’s nowadays forbidden to do so. But of course there is still a bondesque way to get on top.
Why Bond was here
Smuggler and occasional concealer Kristatos (Julian Glover) got his hands on the rare ATAC, a communication system used by the British. He is about to sell it to the Russian KGB at his high up hideout – an abandoned monastery called St. Cyril’s on top of a soaring mountain pillar in Greece. James Bond (Roger Moore) is up to infiltrate the lair in a free climbing fashion to face Kristatos.
As magnificent as the mountain site looks in the movie it actually is in real life. The place is called Metéora, Greek for “in the heavens above”, an assembly of once 24 and now six active monasteries and nunneries in the heart of Greece’ mountainous hinterland.
The area lies between the two small touristic towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki. Coming from the South, trains run some five hours from Athens (via Paleofarsalos) to Kalambaka. From the North, buses go from Ioannina to Kalambaka. Ioannina is a good hub, when coming from “Bond island” Corfu: Ferries are running daily to Igoumenitsa, from there busses go to Ioannina. One can already board the bus on Corfu, but will then – as the commuter stops outside Ioannina – have to go with the local bus 16 into town to board the connecting bus to Kalambaka. But three times a week there is even a bus going directly from Corfu to Thessaloniki via Kalambaka and Kastraki.
While Kastraki is the better option to stay in, when walking or driving the whole range of Metéora, Kalambaka is the closer hub to the 400 meter high pillar where the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Agia Triada) is based – the one used in For Your Eyes Only.
Metéora can be best understood as a mountaintop, where the monasteries are lined up like on a chain of pearls from east to west. For idle walkers, there is a public bus running from Kalambaka to the western Kastraki and then up the mountaintop. The Monastery of the Holy Trinity is in the Far East corner and one of the last stops of the bus. Visitors get off at the backside of the cliff and have then to climb some stairs and tunnels, carved into the monastery’s rock.
However, there is another – more direct and definitely bondesque – way to get to the monastery: Directly from Kalambaka a small “monopati”, a track path established by the monks in former centuries, leads to the mountain. North of Kalambaka it leads about three kilometers into the woods and along the rock outcrop, from where Bond started his climbing tour. It then leads to he same entry, bus tourists have to use. Though it might look unconquerable, the tour only takes between 30 and 40 minutes. Good to know
At the summit a very tranquil monastery run by Greek Orthodox monks awaits the visitor. The complex has two chapels with breathtaking frescos dating back to the 17th and 18th century and a little garden. But highlight for Bond fans is probably the winch room to the north of the building, that the monks use to fetch provisions. In For Your Eyes Only, Bond, after he approached the summit, used the winch to help his aides Columbus (Chaim Topol) and Bondgirl Melina (Carole Bouquet) to enter the villainous hideout. It actually is not the same winch, as Eon productions had to rebuilt another winch room on the eastern adjoining rock.
In general, there will be no recognizable interiors of the monastery, as the film crew was never allowed to film there. The friars didn’t like to have Moore & Co. stumbling around their holy place, while the mayor of Kalambaka (wisely) hoped for a touristic push. The Greek Supreme Court had to rule out, that the monastery itself might be property of he church, but not the mountain. The film crew therefore carefully used all square meters on top of the rock pillar, it could get – while to monks hung old rags and laundry out on their roofs to impede the filming.
What else to do
There are a lot of small hotels and guesthouses in Kalambaka, but of course in the high season of traveling it’s better to book ahead. Very close to the railway station – but without any noise – is the Monastiri Guesthouse with an incredible view at the Holy Trinity. Ask for the rooms No. 3 or 4, if you like a balcony, or for room No. 6, if you prefer a spacious sunroom. Booking directly over the website (not over booking.com e.g.) will be rewarded with a carafe of Greek wine upon arrival.
Directly located at the path leading up to the monastry is the Guesthouse Elena, the rooms are well equipped and the suite is offering a private Jacuzzi and a massaging bath tub. Or opt for the Alsos House, which is offering normal rooms, but also apartments to bring your own food.
And if there is one place in Greece to indulge in good Greek cuisine its Kalambaka. Old fashioned Tavernas are waiting with freshly baked bread, Taramas (fish roe salad; tastes better than it sounds), Tzatziki and big variety of grilled fish and chicken. In our favor was the Taverna To Paramithi – for a good and delicious reason recommended by the grandfather of backpacker-guides: Lonely Planet.
Metéora and its monasteries were our last Bond destination in Greece. Unfortunately we didn’t bring the shiny weather from Corfu with us to the mountains, still the climbing was breath-taking. The hidden path crawling up to the monastery – sometimes with downpour – made us enjoy the later view even more.
© 2015 Huntingbond (1,3,4), © 1981 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation (2)