Cappadocia, Turkey: Insider’s Guide

Cappadocia, Turkey: Insider’s Guide

Cappadocia Tours

Where to Stay and Eat

Best bang-for-your-buck hotel

Kayakapi is my new favorite. It’s a refurbished series of cave houses and mansions set in Urgup, and part of a national park that is a UNESCO World Heritage site and includes a historic church and mosque. The views of the valley are beautiful and the rooms are so huge that some of the suites have their own pool. You can actually rent a whole six-bedroom mansion if you are traveling with extended family or group of friends.

Restaurants the locals love

Ziggy Cafe in Urgup is a landmark that serves the best food in Cappadocia on a beautiful terrace overlooking Urgup and the surrounding valleys. The owner is an artist from Istanbul who brings a real spirit of sophistication and refinement to this otherwise rustic region; her artwork is on display and available for purchase. I recommend the set menu, which will give you a taste of everything, including the scrumptious pastirma, which is similar to pastrami, and borek, which is a phyllo-crusted pie filled with savories including cheese and meat.

Somine, also in Urgup, has a warm and elegant Cappadocian atmosphere, with a fireplace in the middle of the dining room (somine is Turkish for “fireplace”). It’s known for its wonderful service and extensive menu, which offers everything from grilled fish and lamb to a full range of kebabs and pizzas. There’s something for everyone here, which is probably why it’s been in business for ages.

The owners of the Old Greek House, in Mustafapasa, converted this imposing historic home into a small hotel and restaurant serving hearty fare including some of the best stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever eaten.

Must-have dish

Testi kebabi, which is lamb or beef cooked inside a ceramic urn that is then brought to the table and broken open to reveal the delicious meat inside. Local Restaurant in Goreme serves the best version of the original dish (the more modern style is to add vegetables).

Meal worth the splurge
Seki Restaurant at the hotel Argos in Nevsehir serves artfully prepared dishes fusing Continental and Turkish cuisine made with local ingredients and served with excellent wines from its own vineyard.

Balloons, Cappadocia, Turkey

Balloons over Cappadocia. Photo courtesy Earl Starkey.

What to See and Do

Don’t miss

The town of Gulsehir, with its wonderful thirteenth-century Church of St. Jean carved out of a rock face and decorated with well-preserved Byzantine frescoes. Then you can hike from town through the otherworldly rock formations of the Cat Valley to the seventh-century Open Palace (Aciksaray) monastery, which has one of the most elaborate façades of all of the cave church complexes in Cappadocia (and that’s really saying something). The monastery is in all the guidebooks but very few people ever visit—their loss!

Don’t bother

Staying in Goreme, the village in the center of Cappadocia.  When I first went there 20 years ago it was filled with charming local villagers, but they’ve all since sold their homes to hotel owners and have left so that now you’ll only see other tourists. Stay in Urgup, Ortahisar, or Uchisar to have a chance to interact with locals and see a slice of real Turkish life.

Hidden gem

The Church of St. Theodore in the village of Yesiloz was built from hollowing out the rock from a cliff in the eleventh century. You’d never guess from the outside how large the church is—it has three apses—and the frescoes are in remarkably good condition.

Cheap thrill

Trekking on horseback through the valleys gives you a completely different perspective on the landscape. I like the horses and guides at Cemal’s Ranch. They’ll take very good care of you.

Bragging rights

During the summer, which is prime wedding season in Turkey, we can arrange for travelers to attend a kina gecesi (henna night), which kicks off the three-day celebration. The evening starts when the bride is brought in, her face covered with a red sheer cloth. Women apply henna to her hands and wrap them to give her palms the desired ornamental color. The attendees can put henna on their hands as well, for good luck, and sometimes even the groom’s hands are dyed. Then there’s music and dancing (men with men and women with women, in traditional Turkish fashion), and a more-the-merrier atmosphere in which everyone is welcome. Travelers who’ve participated in one of these events always come away having made new friends.

Downtime

Take a hike through the beautiful Ihlara Canyon or a boat ride on the Kizilirmak River in Avanos.

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