Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cave Hotels and Fairy Chimneys: Magical Cappadocia, Turkey


Destination: Goreme, Turkey

Number of Days Spent: 2 days

Where we stayed: 1 night in Dora Hotel (30 lira, $20 - it was not clean and only used solar heated water so our morning shower was cold) and the Dervish Cave Hotel (70 lira - $45 and worth every penny...had we stayed two nights it would have been 60 lira per night - the hotel is new and has been open only 6 months; the room was built into a cave and offered a beautiful view of the fairy chimneys from the balcony, sparkling clean rooms, a jacuzzi bathtub/separate shower 24 hour hot water, awesome pillow-top mattress, free wireless Internet, free pickup from the bus station, a good breakfast & a super helpful and friendly staff - see photos at end of post)



Best restaurant: Nazar Borek Gozleme made a tasty cheese & Turkish sausage gozleme (savory pancake) for 4 lira. They have outdoor seating with pillows right by the canal. Plus they offer free wifi!

Best of: We hiked up to the top of the town and watched a beautiful sunset over the valley. It was absolutely stunning!

Worst of: Our first hotel room was so disgusting that we told the owner we had to move. The second room they gave us was much better (which means that the bathroom didn't smell of urine, the maid cleaned the used soap out of the shower & put clean sheets on the bed; there was hair all over the first set) but I still wouldn't call it clean. Pretty gross...I would definitely avoid the Dora Hotel; there are far better options in town for the same price or a little more.

Most Memorable: We loved our cave hotel and would recommend it to everyone traveling to Cappadocia!

Every now and again, we come across a place that is so stunningly beautiful and unique that it takes our breath away. With its fairy tale chimneys, cave homes and underground cities, Cappadocia is one such place. Stepping still dreary eyed off the bus from Anatalya, our eyes widened by the sight in front of us. We were surrounded by pinnacles of rock reaching for the sky. Carved out of them were holes, some big enough for rooms and a hotel or someone's house, and some just big enough for pigeons to roost. Looking past the chimneys revealed candy stripped mountains in a varying array of whites and greys mixed with all sorts of earthy tones.

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While the natural beauty is the real draw here, there is an intriguing history to the area as well. Early Christians made this place home and scattered in amongst the rocks are hundreds of churches and monasteries. One collection of churches has been turned into what they call the Open Air Museum. While most of the carvings and paintings have been defaced by the conquering Muslims (Although they respect Jesus and the apostles and consider them prophets, Muslim law forbids images of any kind), there are still quite a few intact and well preserved, particularly on the ceilings and higher parts of the walls. The most stunning are in the "Dark" church (extra admission) where the sunlight was so dim that the vibrant colors have survived the test of time.

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One of the more popular activities is to take a hike around the area. There are several treks around, most of them easy to moderate. Given the heat and the time of day, we decided to take a shorter one out to see Love Valley (i.e. the phallic...err...mushroom shaped rocks), After taking a wrong turn, and attempting to correct our mistake by just climbing over the rocks (didn't work and the locals got a good laugh from watching us try) we backtracked and finally ended up in the right place. To keep this blog PG, we are keeping a photo or two repressed ;-) but here are a few other photos.

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Later that night, we climbed up to the top of the hill in town to watch sunset. Sitting on top of the rock, with the wind whipping by gives one pause and reflection on just how stunningly beautiful the area really is.

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Since we decided to take the Nemrut tour that left the next day (see next posting) we squeezed in the rest of the highlights by taking a tour out to Ilhara Valley and the Underground cities.

The area remained a haven for Christians to continue their practice even after the rise of Islam in the region. As a way to avoid invading groups and fighting, the Christians developed massive underground cities to go into hiding. From above ground, only a handful of air vents covered by piles of rocks that blended in with the landscape gave away the location. As they lived in homes above ground most of the time, passing invaders would assume that the village had been deserted and move on. Much like the chimney rocks, the base rock was also easy to carve into and tunnels, rooms and passageways were carved out. Some of the larger cities could accommodate over 2000 people. Wells were dug, food was stored, and the rock kept the temperature cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The porous rock would capture the smoke from fires so no one above ground would realize what lied beneath their feet. They even had wine presses, a chapel to continue worshiping, and stables to keep the livestock.


In an otherwise dry and inhospitable landscape, the Ilhara Valley sticks out as an oasis of life. A small river cutting through the valley provided a place to grow crops and cultivate the land. There are over 80 churches and chapels dotting the valley floor and the pleasant hiking path passes by the meandering brook under the shade of trees. While the paintings in these earlier churches are primitive, it gives you some perspective on how art developed as well.

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The ??? monastery lies at the Northern end of the Ilhara Valley. Local guides say Star Wars was filmed here for the scenes from Mos Eisley, but that's not true. George Lucas may have drew inspiration from here however as the setting looks very much the same. The monastery houses several chambers including the obvious chapels along with kitchens and long "tables" carved out of the rock where the hungry students would congregate to eat.

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The sign on the way to Guzelyurt, exclaims, "A trip to Cappadocia is not complete without a trip to Guzelyurt". While the small village lacks the stunning scenery and caves of its neighbors to the northeast, it does have an impressive, but simple, early mosque. Just outside the mosque there is a well said to bring good luck to those who wash in it's waters...but don't drink! Across the street is another early church, but the views from the top of the church were more impressive than the remains themselves.

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While Guzelyurt may make the claim, a trip to Cappadocia is not complete without staying in the famous cave hotels. The range of choices are across the board, from a dorm room in a cave (20 lira pp) up to a luxury suite with majestic views over the landscape (100 euros ++). The backpacker ones we checked out were 40 lira for a double shared bath and smelled funny while the nicest room we checked out was 90 euros, the honeymoon suite. We settled on the Dervish Cave hotel for 70 lira (about $45; $40 per night for 2 night stay). The hotel was new and there are signs of construction still on going, a few loose wires here and there, but the cool temperature inside the cave and the Jacuzzi tub more than made up for it! To top it off, the owner was super friendly and welcoming. If you are into taking a hot air balloon, they are one of the owners and you can save a few $$'s by cutting out the middle men in town. It was still pricey for us, so we opted not to.

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We woke up bright and early the next morning and hopped on the tour out to see the famed heads of Nemrut.

To see more photos from Cappadocia click here!

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