Caves and sacred inns
Accommodation has gone up-market in central Turkey’s Cappadocia
MYhotel window provides me with an eyeful of prime Cappadocia, complete with the eroded valleys, arches and signature fairy chimney protuberances of this volcanic wonderland.
Or it would have if the view from my room had not lost out to the one of my room. Rather than the fantasy landscapes it is the contemporary, cloisters-cosy interior, with its bare stone walls, open hearth and sofa, that I can’t keep my eyes off. It’s the sunken in-room pool, and the huge french windows giving on to balconies and terraces, that I can’t credit; and accessories such as a bathing robe made from the best Buldan cotton, a mini-bar showcasing Turkey’s renascent viniculture, and a bedside iPod dock, that I can’t get over.
Hotel accommodation in Turkey’s interior — until recently, a byword for bed bugs and bad plumbing — is not meant to resemble my exquisite suite. Argos in Cappadocia: This World Heritage-listed region of central Turkey, with its rock-hewn interiors including frescoed churches and warren-like underground cities, has been undergoing quite an accommodation makeover and can finally be enjoyed in the world-class comfort it merits.
The 42-room Argos (also described above), imaginatively restored from an abandoned hillside neighbourhood of traditional cave dwellings and monastic buildings in the village of Uchisar, had a soft opening in 2010. This year the opening of a spa, hamam and outdoor pool will complement existing facilities, which include an all-day restaurant and room service. More: argosincappadocia.com.
For some years the Cappadocian ev (house) or konak (mansion) has been evolving as a boutique B&B type as distinctive as the Moroccan riad. It’s a hybrid style that incorporates local architectural traditions — hewnout cave dwellings along with the grander freestanding houses favoured by 19th-century merchant families — within a walled compound abounding in landscaped terraces, stands of fruit trees and courtyards.
Rooms, invariably of generous dimensions, are either carved from the soft terracotta-toned volcanic tufa or lie beneath arched roofs of raised ashlar; either way, if you’re one for whitewashed or plastered walls, then Cappadocia won’t be for you. Sacred House: A more theatrical approach characterises Urgup’s Sacred House, where themed rooms — decked out as chapels, Esbelli Evi: The ev hotel was pioneered some years back at Esbelli Evi, the most admired accommodation in Cappadocia. In this refined but unstuffy Urgup townhouse, guests are free to browse the library for histories or learned monographs on Cappadocian frescoes and the like — you won’t find much in the way of Jack Higgins thrillers — or to select a CD from a jazz collection long on Wynton Marsalis.
The hotel is full of retrobilia — Singer sewing machines and old instrument cases in the rooms, wooden threshing forks and other agricultural antiques in the grounds — and certainly has its eccentricities. There are no numbers on the rooms and amid all this high style you’ll find a guests’ laundromat sunk into one of the walls. But I defy anybody to enter the place without feeling the palpable force of its civilising style. (Note that Esbelli Evi, in common with many of the lookalikes it has spawned across Urgup and elsewhere, does not have a restaurant.) More: esbelli.com. harems, shrines, armouries, treasuries and boudoirs — encapsulate the colour and character of Cappadocia’s Byzantine and Ottoman pasts.
Some guests are sure to baulk at the flamboyance, though the romantically minded are likely to have an excellent time. Management is charming and attentive and there’s a fine restaurant with a menu that includes Armenian and Ottoman lamb dishes. More: sacred-house.com. Hezen Cave Hotel: Another recent opening, Hezen Cave Hotel in Ortahisar is something of a pioneering establishment in a town that has traditionally used its extensive caves not to house visitors but for the cold storage of citrus fruits.
The property enjoys a wonderful position, with a high terrace looking out over the great riddled bastion rock at the heart of the town. A welcome preference in the restoration for primary colours over the hulking dark furniture favoured elsewhere makes these rooms among the most appealing in Cappadocia.
It’s a good walker’s base, as the lovely Baklan Valley can be accessed immediately below the hotel. One drawback is that Ortahisar has few restaurants, so visitors may have to travel to eat. More: hezenhotel.com. Old Greek House: This more established option is where to go if you’re all caved out. It’s a freestanding historic mansion on a garden square in the pretty little town of Mustafapasa. The present owner’s father bought the house in 1938 for 10 gold liras and, with the exception of the bathrooms, it seems about that much again has since been spent on the place’s upkeep. But this is a good thing; gorgeous if faded interiors are arranged around a vine-hung courtyard while the first floor is home to the dining salon and to spacious bedrooms with period painted ceilings. More: oldgreekhouse.com. Fairy Chimney Inn: This budget option enjoys a wonderfully secluded position high above the comparative bustle of Goreme. These are about the most authentic cave interiors in all Cappadocia, with simple but charming rooms — and a German anthropologist owner who has a deep interest in the region’s culture. More: fairychimney.org. Kale Konak Uchisar’s Kale Konak, which opened in 2006, enjoys even better views than those offered by its grander neighbour, Argos. This is a delightful building, almost monastic in feel, with courtyards, terraces and any number of corners for creative lazing. The charming staff offer evening meals on request, and there’s a traditional hamam stocked with wooden clogs, thick towels and mega bars of olive oil soap. More: kalekonak.com. Jeremy Seal’s latest book, Meander: East to West along a Turkish River (Random House, $27.99), is published next month.
A guestroom in the imaginatively restored Argos in Cappadocia