As we raced to Meteora we knew we were cutting it fine. We desperately wanted to catch the sunset as it painted the amazing pinnacles with light.
We arrived around 6pm, having told the hotel in the confirmation email we'd be arriving late. Now you might think travel writers don't have problems with bookings - you just tell them who you are and they start vacuuming the red carpet. Well, sorry, we do travel anonymously. We don't want special treatment. We want to make a balanced judgement, so we want to experience it just as every traveller does.
When we arrived at our Kastraki hotel, which we'd booked by email a few days earlier and received confirmation the day before, we were surprised to find they weren't going to honour our booking. Now this is one of Greece's premier tourist destinations on a Saturday night - we would've had to run around for hours trying to find another room and Terry had sunset pictures to take. The guy on the desk was helplessly looking through some faxes. After asking to speak to the owner, Lara was handed the phone. Seems the reservations guy in Athens (who later turned out to be his son) was more interested in his girlfriend than taking email bookings. Great.
So Lara stated the facts: we have a booking, we have confirmation, give us our room, or find us another one. When this didn't work, she reluctantly admitted where we were from - after all, this was the choice hotel in town, a fave with LP readers, we had limited time, and we had to see the rooms. We were given keys and although this meant someone else would miss out it, we reminded ourselves it was the hotel's fault. An important lesson learnt: in Greece, don't do bookings by email and arrive with the confirmation fax in hand.
Terry climbed a steep hill beside the awesome, amazingly shaped pinnacles of Meteora to get some long exposure snaps. Returning later that night, the owner asked us to have a drink. We asked if people should skip emails and only book by fax? Or did he always overbook? The answer: "Oh no! There's no problem! This is the first time this has ever happened!" Contrary to what he told us when he didn't know who we were writing for.
After spending the morning visiting the magical monasteries we headed through the spectacular Pindos mountains. The scenery was breathtaking. We drove through amazing high country with monstrous rugged snow-capped mountains, while lower the hills were thick with shrubs in every shade of green. At Vikos Gorge, for sunset, we drove to the Oxya Lookout, passing some spectacular grey granite rock formations and horses with tinkling bells around their necks eating grass. The views were sublime.
We stayed at Monodendri in what must be one of Greece's most charming and best value traditional hotels, the Archontiko Zarkada
. The rooms in the grey stone building are beautifully decorated with Ottoman-style dark wooden furniture, polished wooden floorboards, traditional carpets and lace curtains, and awesome views over the valley. They surprisingly also came with flat screen TV, DVD player, mini-bar, spa showers (appreciated after a hard trek!) and a good Greek breakfast, all for only 45 euros! And they even honour email bookings...