Mountains and Mysticism: a Meteora Sunset

Have you ever heard of Meteora, a region of mountains and monasteries in Northern Greece? Here is our Meteora sunset photo story, a collection of stunning images of this wonderful place. 

Meteora and Mount Athos

Out of all the places in the whole wide world, there is one that I’m sure I’ll never go to. It is Mount Athos, a peninsula in Eastern Greece, home to a community of Orthodox Christian monks for over one thousand years. I had seen pictures of the lofty monasteries built on mountaintops, of the tiny churches covered in frescoes and of bearded, robed monks climbing wandering the mountain trails and the dimly lit corridors.

Meteora Sunset varlaam
Varlaam monastery, Meteora, in the afternoon

Trouble is, women are not allowed in Mount Athos, by way of a decree dating back to 1046. So, unless I disguise myself as a man (a handful of adventuresses have done so within the last two centuries), I’ll never see Mount Athos.

Meteora sunset rocks
Between the Meteora rocks

However, there is another place that is just as beautiful, perhaps even more beautiful; a place where monasteries are built on top of rock towers, where tiny churches covered in frescoes and lit by candlelight are freely accessible to all, where dark-robed monks and veiled nuns wander around, praying and chanting from dog-eared prayer books. This place is Meteora – a place that simply needs to be on your Greece itinerary.

Greece Meteora Sunset
The last rays of sun over the Meteora rocks

I have dreamed to go to Meteora for as long as I can remember. Knowing I’d never make it to Mount Athos, Meteora was always going to be my number one Greece destination. Not Athens, not Santorini, not the white-blue landscapes of the Greek Isles. I dreamt of a Meteora sunset, when the sun paints the rock towers apricot and the monasteries chant their vesper choirs. That, to me, is peace.

Meteora Sunset kastraki
The village of Kastraki under the rocks of Meteora

Meteora and mysticism

Mountains and mysticism have always gone hand in hand. The mountaintops of my beloved Alps are full of churches, chapels and hermitages. Being high means getting closer to the sky, to the heavens, to God. But there’s something else. The mountains foster introspection and self discovery. The elements test your faith and your endurance. You don’t find monks and hermits meditating on beaches and under coconut palms. You find them on freezing glaciers, on scorching deserts and windswept plains.

Meteora Sunset holy trinity monastery
The Holy Trinity Monastery on top of a rocky pillar

Meteora was the ideal place for a group of Mount Athos monks to build monasteries. Lying just opposite the Turkish coast, Mount Athos monasteries were often the target of Ottoman raids. A monk called Athanasios found the impregnable rock pillars of Meteora to be the ideal location for a monastery, and began construction of the Great Meteoron Monastery, which has never been abandoned to this day. Following Athanasios’s example, more monks flocked to the area, building more than 20 monasteries. Six of them are still active.

Meteora sunset roussanou
A bird’s eye view of Meteora at sunset

Protection and security were definitely one of the reasons to build monasteries at Meteora; but there is another one. Meteora rocks are sandstone pillars, and building monasteries on their top relates back to the tradition of the stylites, or pillar dwellers, an early Christian type of asceticism where devotees climbed to the top of pillars, and lived there, exposed to the elements and with very little food, until their deaths.

Meteora sunset landscape
Meteora: the Greek word translates as ‘suspended in the sky’

An amazing Meteora sunset

Meteora is a stunning sight. Not only are there the monasteries, the sandstone pillars and the quiet, still atmosphere inside the fresco-covered churches; the landscape is amazingly scenic, with rock formations, caves and the remnants of hermit dwellings. The rocks are surrounded by beautiful oak forests, and further down by the villages of Kalambaka and Kastraki, looking like a sight out of a fairy tale from the top of the rocks.

Meteora holy trinity monastery
The afternoon sun over Holy Trinity Monastery

A Meteora sunset is a wonderful, mystical experience. We visited in the early autumn, but the scenery was still verdant and wild thanks to a recent burst of hot weather. During the day, the sun shone brightly; as the golden hour approached, the sandstone pillars changed in colour, from gold to mellow orange, to deep rose, and finally to indigo as the sun dipped behind the Pindos mountains on the horizon.

Meteora sunset roussanou sun
The sun setting over Roussanou

Only a handful of tourists were present; a far cry from the claps and cheers of sunsets at Oia and Crete in the height of summer. A soft breeze blew as the sky changed into a million warm hues of pink, purple and orange. All around us there was peace, just peace.

Meteora sunset valley 2
Meteora just after sunset

Alsos House – an amazing place to stay in Meteora

If you’re coming from Athens, Kalambaka will surprise you in a positive way; it’s a sleepy village with lazy cats dozing around, and the stunning rocks of Meteora as a backdrop. If you walk up all the way from the train station, heading towards the rocks, you’ll get to Alsos House, a family-run hotel with a view to die for. Just check the pic below, taken during the night from our front balcony.

Meteora night rocks sky
The beautiful Meteora rocks at night, as seen from Alsos House!

Rooms at Alsos House are bright and comfortable, with big windows offering great views on the rocks. Having breakfast sipping coffee in the morning sunshine, surrounded by sweet kittens and the Meteora rocks was an experience that we will treasure forever, since we wanted to visit Meteora for a very long time. Staying at Alsos House, you’ll feel right in the middle of it all, completely immersed in nature. We could have spent hours just sitting on the balcony – and with this view, can you blame me?

meteora alsos house
The view from the breakfast terrace – Photo Credits Alsos House

Yes, Alsos House may be a fair walk from the train station, but you’re super close to the hiking trails. The path to Holy Trinity monastery starts just behind the hotel, leading you up in about an hour walk or so. Just make sure you get to the monastery before 5pm, when the monastery close.

Owner Yiannis and his son were excellent hosts, always ready to help us with advice and tips on the best restaurants and best viewpoints of the rocks. They greeted us with a big hug when we arrived, and when we left – we promised we would be back one day, and we loved Meteora so much I have no doubt that we will!

alsos house kalambaka
Another stunning shot of Alsos House at night – Photo Credits Alsos House

By the way, if you have problems finding Alsos House… just follow the map!

meteora map alsos house
The map of Kalambaka – Alsos House is right at the top! Image Credits Alsos House

We would like to thank George of Visit Meteora and Yiannis of Alsos House for having hosted us during our time in Meteora. As always, all opinions are our own. 

If you want to know more about Meteora, here’s the podcast of Margherita’s interview from Amateur Traveler on travelling to Mainland Greece.

Amateur Traveler Episode 449 – Travel to the Mainland of Greece

33 thoughts on “Mountains and Mysticism: a Meteora Sunset”

  1. I was there at the very beginning of April and well, you just couldn’t describe the place better, it’s exactly as perfect as you wrote! Too bad it was cloudy when I was there as the sunset looks stunning! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks Kami! We were so lucky with the weather, but the place looks stunning with clouds too! I loved your pics 🙂

    • hey Emiko! It’s kind of far for a day trip, about 300 km. I recommend staying there at least a couple of days, to go on a hiking trip and to soak up the wonderful atmosphere! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Margherita, for me it was quite the opposite, I had actually never heard of Meteora before coming to Greece. But this way I was even more surprised by what kind of beautiful place it was, especially during sunset hours. Only too bad that you will never really know if Meteora is really more beautiful than Mount Athos… 😉

    • hey Dennis! I think now you should go to Mount Athos, so you can tell me what it’s like! I would LOVE to see that place 🙂

  3. Gorgeous photos! I heard about Meteora a few years back and it’s been on my list of things I would like to see since. The photos look like they are out of the pages of a storybook. I’m also quite intrigued by Mount Athos now…may have to try some cross dressing 😉

  4. I really wanted to visit Meteora, but we didn’t end up having enough time. We will definitely make it there on our next visit to Greece though! Gorgeous photos–makes me want to go even more!!

  5. I opened this post and nearly fell over. What beautiful shots. Love the first and the last. Planning to take my kids to Greece this summer and hoping to visit Meteora now!

    • Thanks Sarah! You and your kids will love Meteora, I’m sure. It was great for walking around and spending time outdoors!

  6. This looks so appealing and yet another place that I did not know existed. Thanks Magherita… another hike to add to the wander list!

  7. Looks so beautiful, but unfortunate you weren’t able to head to Mount Athos. I wonder how many women do try and disguise themselves as a man today? And how effective that really can be without being so obvious!

    • I’ve been wondering the same things, then looked into it and saw that it’s actually impossible these days to sneak in. You need a special permission in your passport!

  8. Thanks for a great post. I visited Meteora in 1998 and it is wonderful to have such amazing memories brought back.

    The precariousness of these buildings is something I have never seen anywhere else.

    • Thanks Andrew! That place is so amazing, I’ll never tire of looking at pics! Glad you enjoyed them!

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