Caves and sa­cred inns

Accommodation has gone up-mar­ket in cen­tral Turkey’s Cap­pado­cia

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JEREMY SEAL

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

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