Plucked straight from a fairy-tale, the postcard countryside of Cappadocia is possibly one of the most visually striking sights I’ve had the privileging of witnessing – with its honeycombed hills and soaring boulders, the Anatolian landscape is quite literally out of this world. With a back-story like no other and a past that has carved itself out to be the most ‘instagramable’ spot of the 21stcentury; there is so much to see, explore, eat and do in this incredibly diverse region of central Turkey.
Let’s start by setting the scene – millions of years ago, volcanoes spewed out ash and tufa over a wide part of central Turkey, creating an area full of borrows, odd rock formations (which over the centuries became known as the Fairy Chimneys), deep gorges and steep, soaring mountains. A few centuries later, locals moved to this region, taking refuge in the rocks and later turning them into houses, churches, stables, storerooms and even wineries, creating literal underground cities, all linked by tunnels.
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A few years later, the Ancient Greeks colonised much of what is now Turkey and their descendants carved out hundreds of wonderful churches in Cappadocia between the 7th and 14th centuries. Most of these churches were cut inside the rock with columns, altars and other familiar church features, all cut out of the stone – many of that can still be found today in the towns of Ürgüp, Göreme, Uçhisar, Avanos and Mustafapaşa – the small areas that make up the protected region of Cappadocia.
From the 14thcentury onwards, this great area in Turkey has long been a sight to be seen, but in recent years, this has not only been because of the dramatic landscape but also because the myriad of experiences available – whether that be cultural, dining or flying high in one of the many hot air balloons that adorn the sky at dawn every morning.
Starting off with Göreme, the hub of the region, where summer days are dry and hot whist winters are sometimes snowy. Göreme is home to some lovely restaurants and hotels and is also a great place to begin your adventure – whether your seeking culture or shopping, Göreme is at the centre of it all. Start with the Open-Air Museum, an ancient monastic settlement where you can find some of the best churches, that are astonishingly still in great condition. Cappadocia also boasts more than 30 underground cities, some burrowing down eight or nine storeys. An outstanding experience in themselves, these cities were also lived in by Christians who used them as a place of refuge during the 7th-century Arab invasions. Kaymakli and Derinkuyu are the largest, most impressive and definitely worth a visit – any place that can easily fit a horse underground is absolutely worth seeing!
One of the greatest joys of this region is hot-air ballooning – a magical morning experience that soars you sky high over the dramatic landscape of Cappadocia. Royal Balloon were our guides throughout and I couldn’t recommend them enough – despite the throng of people, they made the 24-man balloon ride feel easy breezy – additionally, I can get on board with any experience that ends with chocolate covered strawberries and bubbly. Weather permitting; the company operates flights every morning from mid-March to early November.
When it comes to resting your head, our personal favourite and number one suggestion is Argos in Cappadocia, a hotel built into the landscape of the ancient village of Uchisar. Overlooking a magical moonscape of volcanic peaks amidst fragrant valleys of apple groves and apricots, Argos is as improbable a creation as it is immensely inviting. Who would imagine a serenely beautiful, extraordinarily stylish and absolutely unique hotel built from ancient ruins, caves and underground tunnels? Yet this is one of the most unusual and most appealing hotel we have ever stayed in: an enchanting blend of two thousand years of history, passionate devotion to authenticity and traditions of hospitality, and cutting edge design and technology.
A labor of love, 22 years in the making and now a world-class property, the hotel began with the vision of turning a complex of ancient dwellings into a world-class luxury hotel. The dream was enhanced with the discovery of the ruins of Bezirhane, a 1500-year old rock-hewn monastery and later hostel for camel caravans on the legendary Silk Road. What followed were years of careful excavation and research, training of stone, iron workers and carpenters in traditional crafts, delicate restoration of historical buildings, caves and tunnels and the implementation of the grand, innovative design by one of Turkey’s leading master architects, Turgut Cansever. Finally, the Argos in Cappadocia opened its doors as an elegant masterpiece – a 51-room boutique hotel and concert hall that reinterprets the rich traditions of the past for today’s travellers.
The hotel’s accommodations are offered in several styles, from stone rooms to ‘Splendid Suites’. What distinguishes them from other hotels is that they are situated in seven restored ‘mansions’ connected by underground tunnels and pay tribute, in design, to the region’s ancient underground architecture. Opening onto balconies, terraces and secluded courtyards, with splendid views of neighboring Pigeon Valley and distant peaks, they are nonetheless caves – with all the latest modern conveniences. Capturing the feel, colour and texture of timeless stone and wood, each room and suite is distinctively and individually designed, decorated with Turkish carpets (a famous trade of Turkey), artefacts, candles and decorative objects set in wall niches. Most rooms feature a working fireplace as well as the latest technology, including wireless internet and excellent sound systems. All ‘Splendid Suites’ even have their own private in-suite swimming pool.
Other features of the Argos in Cappadocia include an outstanding 100-seat indoor and outdoor restaurant called, SEKİ serving outstanding regional and Turkish dishes as well as international cuisine. The restaurant uses only fresh, local ingredients and even has a garden where herbs and vegetables are harvested. Foodies also have the opportunity to visit the garden and handpick herbs and greens for use in their meal – a lovely touch. The food here was simply outstanding and we spent many a marvelous morning on the terrace, watching the balloons rise in the sky over a plate of cheese and local honey, coffee and a game of backgammon. A Turkish signature, make sure you try their homemade breads and their local selection of fresh sheep and cow cheese. SEKI Lounge is the perfect place to relax with a cocktail or a snack from the small menu, while magnificent views of Pigeon Valley stretch beneath your feet and the hotel’s huge grape collection, housed in its own wine cellar underneath the restaurant, showcases bottles from its own Kalecik Karasi and Syrah vineyards. In SEKI’s cellar, you will find a vast selection of the best grapes from the Anatolian region, can attend tastings and get detailed information on Anatolian grape-making.
Clad in blankets of snow in winter, flowering with red roses, wild oleaster, vineyards and orchards and dotted with gurgling fountains and freshwater springs in spring and summer, Cappadocia is a dream come true whatever the season.
For more information and bookings, please visit www.argosincappadocia.com