Friday, 15 March 2013

Cappadocian weekender

Cappadocia off season is just the thing to escape from the buzzing city of Istanbul. The mountains are likely to still be capped with snow and the evenings pretty freezing, but the days are fresh and the landscape empty.  The strange peaks and towers left by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago are unlike anything, rendered even more surreal by the countless cave dwellings carved into them from the Roman ages up till the 12th century. It really is worth seeing it for yourself.

Luminous mistletoe

If you're not a super keen hiker, 2 full days is just enough to get a proper taste. We walked along a couple of valleys in the area, exploring all the different cave rooms, climbing up precarious, rusty ladders and crawling through tiny, dusty passages to see the ochre adorned churches. We hardly saw another soul for most of our treks which was both liberating and worrying since we weren't always sure of the way. It was wonderful though, to be able to run around like a child, getting cave dust all over myself and have my own uninterrupted adventure.

The most spectacular settlement is a a far cry from all of that freedom, and found in the paved and gated 'Goreme open air museum' which is really more of a National park. There, tour buses abound in high season and even when we went there were a few small crowds. It is still a fascinating site to visit since it contains many 10th century frescoed churches that show Christ's nativity, passion and the last supper among other scenes. The best preserved church, mysteriously named 'the dark church' depicts some particularly unusual angels with peacock feather-like wings. Other than that, one of my favourite rooms was a rectory where a table and benches had been dug out of the stone and the last supper was depicted on its far wall.

Although a lot of care might have been taken around the ceremony of supper in the 10th century, I wouldn't say that the area is of interest in terms of food tourism. The cities themselves are very quiet in low season and the locals don't seem to eat out much. Most of the restaurants are catered to tourists and therefore either overpriced or not particularly good quality. The best place we found was a road side restaurant between Goreme museum and Goreme town centre (I can't remember its name), which was reasonably priced and decent tasting. There we tried the amusingly named 'testi kebab' - a speciality of the area cooked in a seed terracotta pot that you smash to  open up once cooked. I'm not sure it adds anything to the taste but a little theatre is no bad thing. Inside is a decent stew, no more, no less.

Other than that there are two underground settlements of which we visited Derinkuyu (the better but further of the two.) Deep below the ground, refugee Christians escaping Roman persecution built a network of rooms, churches and a school, all with big stone discs as doors. 

Visiting it is an extremely claustrophobic but interesting experience as you squeeze through narrow stairways and crouch under low ceilings. To think of people burrowing and living like a colony of rabbits is quite extraordinary.

Last on our itinerary were the two famous Cappadocian vineyards, Kocabag in Uchisar, and Turasan in Urgup. Both make many different styles of wine but only let you taste a small selection of their cheapest. In both cases they were mediocre and not worth the high tax on Turkish alcohol. We did however buy a £12.50 bottle of French oaked white which piqued our curiosity though we weren't able to taste it. I will report back as to whether it is any good once we have drunk it. I think your time would be better invested exploring!

We stayed in a very pleasant cave style room for just £15 each at Buket Cave hotel and flights are £40-£80 return from Istanbul so all in all it can be a very cheap holiday extension. 

View by the hotel