Looking at photos, Cappadocia, Turkey appears to be a fantasy world of colorful hot air balloons floating above vast canyons and clusters of rock formations millions of years old, nicknamed “fairy chimneys.” Yes, you experience that when you are in Cappadocia, but there’s so much more to discover.
Last month we were in Istanbul and took a side trip for Cappadocia for three days. Daily flights on Turkish Airlines are limited to Nevşehir, the central airport of the region. The 7AM, 90-minute flight arrived at 8:30AM, which gave us the advantage of having most of the day to explore.
The 20-minute drive from the airport to the hotel was a terrific scenic introduction to the area.
The Karlik Evi Hotel is a medium-sized, family-owned hotel in Ulchisar, the village with the highest elevation in the region.
From the outside, the hotel looked like a large, slightly rundown house. Once inside, the warm atmosphere and décor was a cross between a cool arts and crafts style hotel and a trip down memory lane filled with grandma’s relics. The owner, Alihan, warmly greeted me, welcoming me to the hotel before he took me on a tour.
The lobby area consisted of cozy nooks with sofas and club chairs, antiques, Turkish rugs, dark wood floors and walls and backgammon sets. Every wall and surface had paintings, drawings and sculptures on it; Alihan told me there’s a big art fair in the town and that these were works collected over the years. The vast dining hall and lounge were on the lower level, which led to a glass-enclosed gazebo where breakfast was served. The outside garden area contained two swimming pools, along with more art sculptures. The property is also a working farm with a rabbit pen, horses and a chicken coop.
My eclectically decorated room had stone walls, a king-size bed with a burgundy satin bedspread, chair and desk, and a nesting area for tea drinking of floor pillows covered in tapestries. The oversized bathroom had a large tub with Jacuzzi. Opening the windows, we gasped at the magnificent vista of the vast mountain range and valleys below.
We had two full day tours and a balloon ride scheduled for the next two days, so we decided to explore the village of Ulchisar on our arrival day.
Walking through the rustic village our attention was focused on the scenery, and every turn had another majestic view of the caves, towers and mountains. A bevy of small shops and stalls had locally made crafts, ceramics, rugs, tapestries and souvenirs. Serhat, a shop with hand-embroidered tablecloths and runners in soft cotton and silks, caught our eye, as we purchased a number of articles for gifts. Adorable mini-hot air balloon key chains also made great gifts.
Trying to enter another hotel to possibly have lunch at, the entrance was blocked by construction. The owner told us the hotel was under renovation, but he had just opened a new restaurant about a half-mile away and had his driver take us there. Reserved Restaurant almost felt out of place in a good way, as most of the restaurants in the area either catered to tourists with formula menus or had old-fashioned interiors. The modern, chic interior, with turquoise velvet tufted chairs, cream color marble floors, exposed rock walls, and petrified wood table tops, was more the sort you would find in Paris or New York. The mouth-watering menu choices over-stimulated our hunger pangs, but finally we chose the mezze buffet of five various spreads plus a bowl of olives. Hummus, baba ghanoush, and another spread with ground pistachios among others overwhelmed our palates with a multitude of smoky, and tangy flavors. The waiter kindly offered a robust but smooth glass of Turkish red wine. We were so stuffed, we didn’t have room to taste the delectable appetizers and main dishes, so we made reservations to return for dinner the next night.
We were scheduled for a balloon ride at sunrise the next morning with a recommended company, Royal Balloon, but received a disappointing email saying the weather conditions made them unable to fly that day and the next. All balloon companies in Cappadocia are registered with the government weather agency, which determines whether they can fly or not.
The hotel kindly arranged a small group, full day tour starting at 9:30AM for us with Andromeda Tours, a well established, award-winning tour company. Called the Red Tour, it covered the northern part of the area and the city of Goreme. The open-air museum was the first stop, a spectacular site of ancient monasteries and churches carved from the natural rock. Some had caves with intact wall paintings with vivid colored illustrations from the Bible from the 10th to 12th century. A seven-story rock mass comprises the Nunnery, an ancient chapel with a set of rooms. We also visited the Monks Valley, famous for the natural rock formations resembling chimneys and mushroom tops.
An unexpected treat was a visit to a ceramics workshop. A small group gathered on benches, watching as a craftsman single-handedly spun a lump of wet clay into a vase, controlling the wheel with his foot, instinctively knowing when to stop and start it, while working with one hand to shape it. After the demonstration, we were taken to the shop, featuring hundreds of assorted ceramic pieces in various patterns and finishes. The day ended with a visit to the Uchisar Castle, close to our hotel. The castle is a series of hollowed-out rooms in towering rock formations with multi-level stairs, tunnels and passageways. Since the castle is at the highest point of Cappadocia, the views are unparalleled. Another feature is pigeon houses, which are painted white to attract pigeons. The pigeon droppings are a valuable resource for farmers, who use them as fertilizer for orchards and vineyards.
The next day we organized a Green tour covering South Cappadocia with Ala Turka, another well-known tour company. The terrain and colors were markedly different than North Cappadocia, with hues of orange and pink. The highlight was a mostly flat ground hike through the Meskendir Valley. The two-hour leisurely walk took us through many different landscapes and, at each turn, we were astounded by the natural beauty. The weather was mostly overcast the time we were in Cappadocia, but during our hike, the clouds cleared and the sun shone, giving the landscape yet another stunning visual by the change of color. We stopped at a primitive café, where the owner squeezed fresh pomegranate and orange juice for us, while we took in the views.
Our final impression of Cappadocia was we experienced a magical place with physical beauty and landscapes like no other we have seen before.
Karlik Evi Hotel
Rox Cappadocia-boutique hotel with 6 stone cave suites www.roxcappadocia.com
Kayakapi Premium Caves –Luxury hotel with cave rooms, plus a mansion with a private indoor & outdoor pool.
Museum Hotel –Thirty room Relais & Chateaux cave hotel.
Ziggy Café and Restaurant
Pumpkin Restaurant and Gallery
Inci Cave Restaurant –vegan and vegetarian friendly
Andromeda Tours- private and group tours
Ala Turka- private and group tours