For centuries, visitors have speculated on why monks and nuns chose to lead isolated lives high on the inhospitable cliffs of the Meteora. I'm beginning to think it was because they knew what was coming: In the last few years, Kalambaka has almost doubled in size, changing from a rather ho-hum small town to a rather ugly large town.

Kalambaka's best feature is still its three plateias, with their fountains, cafes, and restaurants, strung out along the main drag, Trikalon. Unfortunately, many pleasant stone buildings with tile roofs have been torn down and replaced with the architecturally tedious buildings that are infesting so much of Greece. The once-sleepy village of Kastraki, a few miles closer to the monasteries, has virtually been absorbed by Kalambaka's sprawl. That said, I still stay in Kalambaka or Kastraki when I visit, because I enjoy driving up to the monasteries early and late, when they are closed, and you can sit and enjoy the view the monks and nuns have before the tour buses arrive. Just out of Kalambaka itself, the low-key, family-run 16-unit Pension Arsenis (; tel. 24320/23-500) has a highly praised restaurant, wonderful views, helpful hosts, and well-cared-for simple rooms; doubles from 50€.

In Kastraki, the views at the 24-room Doupiani House (; tel. 24320/ 77-555) are great and the prices reasonable (doubles officially start at 80€, but are often considerably less). Some visitors have praised the hosts and restaurant -- while others have found the food mediocre and the hosts elusive. A lot can depend on whether your visit overlaps with the visit of a tour group, when things can become hectic. Most of the hotels here considerably lower prices off season and when tourists are few -- although Japanese tour groups seem to flock here in winter months when, it must be said, the mists and fog around the cliffs are absolutely stunning.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.