Beyond Trikala, in the valley of the Pinios River, abruptly rising from the plain, īne will find a group of high, sheer rocks that have been sculpted by nature over the centuries. 'Meteora' meaning 'rocks in the air' rises 250-300 meters above the valley. Ancient monasteries perching miraculously on top of these pinnacles complete this amazing spectacle. Before these extraordinary monasteries were built in the 9th century, hermits inhabited the caves living at one with nature and seeking unity with God.
In 1540 the Serbs occupied this area and the Orthodox Serbians changed the face of the landscape around Kalampaka. Between 1340 and 1420 they built the first clerical settlement and monasteries above the rocks.In 1356 Monk Athanasios built the Monastery of Metamorphosis (Grand Meteora) which was then followed by the Monastery of the Appearance of the Lord (Ypapantis) by Abbot Neilos. In 1367 Prince Antonios Kantakuzenos founded the monastery of Saint Stepahanos which one can see from the plain of the Pinios River. Abbot Athanasios had a very important successor: the Serbian Prince John Paleaologos-Urosch. He abdicated from his princely role and became known simply as Ioasaph. At first he lived in Mount Athos and later went to the big rock of Plathilithos to construct a monastery and church and from that time it was known as the sanctuary which has a painting of the founder Athanasios.
The Turkish domination in Thessalia from 1420, continuing for 450 years could not destroy the flourishing of the monasteries. During this time large and small monasteries were built and at its peak there were 24 altogether.
In former times ascent to the monasteries was only possible by treacherous methods; climbing a rope ladder or by riding in something resembling a 'hay net' hoisted by a cable winch. These were only replaced after being broken or decayed. Today, however, one does not have to endure such a dramatic journey to admire these amazing sights. There are many steps to climb to reach one's destination. The most impressive to visit are: Grand Meteora the highest and the grandest with rare icons, the Varlaam monastery which has frescoes from the 16 Century, Saint Stephanos occupied by nuns, the convent of Roussanou, and the more personal monastery of Agia Triada which is smaller and less frequented than the others. Here at the mighty 'rocks in the air' towering to heaven you will join Greek mysticism and ascetism.
There is no better location from which to sight-see Meteora than from the friendly, family-run Arsenis ''Pension''. This peaceful spot is just a few minutes drive from the monasteries and the bustling town of Kalambaka; 352 kilometres from Athens, 260 from Thessaloniki, 230 from Delphi and 144 from Volos.
Arsenis was constructed in 1995 amidst an olive grove that has been tended respectfully by the Arsenis family for generations. Views of the Thessalian Valley and Pindos Mountains are unique and uninterrupted : the encircling scrubby foothills and pastures provide grazing in winter and spring for sheep, cows and goats. Surrounded by this panorama it is impossible for Vasso, the Matriarch of this welcoming family, not to reminisce about her childhood, for it was in these meadows she endured lonely days as shepherdess with her flocks of animals and wild tortoises. Her knowledge of the local tracks is unquestionable.
Not even in her dreams did she envisage her future role in a successful business as a meticulous housekeeper with the opportunity to admire such familiar scenery from the verandah of her own hotel.Patriarch, Dimitri, is happiest when working the land in tune with the seasons. Red grapes are gathered in September and during autumn wood is energetically cut, stored and stacked to provide fuel for the communal fire place on long cold nights. Winter is the time for harvesting and pressing the olives. By March anticipation of the approaching spring gives new energy and life and its arrival comes in a flurry of flowers; carpets of red poppies, yellow buttercups and wild anemones all crowned by the deep purple blossom of the Judas tree intermittently decorating the rocky landscape. Dimitri is also an expert 'chef ' in the barbeque area. An evening meal is always popular with guests who can enjoy charcoal-grilled local meat, with salads. The relaxing and peaceful atmosphere on the balcony is particularly enticing after a long trip or a busy day of sight-seeing.
Management of the establishment is delegated to the two sons, Costas and Panayotis. Costas, chatty receptionist very much dedicated to public-relations and conversations about international football; is married to Edit, a Hungarian. Her first visit to Meteora was as a holiday-maker: now, as a member of the family she takes an active part in running the business. Hospitable, Panayotis, a professional gymnast, taking after his agile father, helps in the hotel in high season and on Greek Holidays.
The public areas are spacious and light. Close to the reception desk is an open-plan lounge with a cozy fireplace. From the breakfast room, veranda and barbeque area there are lovely views of the countryside. There are 16 rooms altogether, twins, triples and four-bedded family rooms. All are furnished with simple modern furniture; have satellite TV, central-heating, shower and w.c. and have splendid hillside or mountain views. Most have a veranda and air-conditioning.
The Arsenis has already gained a place in the guide books of ''Marco Polo'', ''Michael-Muller'', '' Dumont'', ''Nelles-Guide-Griechenland'' and the French ''Guide de Routard''.