By Tijana Tamburic
Friends from far and wide were telling me Cappadocia was something I had to tick off my bucket list; a once in a lifetime experience I would always remember. But I hadn’t even heard of the place, let alone listed it in my proverbial bucket. What was Cappadocia?
A Turkish summer break to me connotates sandy beaches, fish restaurants and bars so I was thinking Bodrum, Çeşme or Izmir. Why would I want to go to a semi-arid region of Central Turkey for my summer vacation?
Then I Google image searched Cappadocia.
The magical, martian, mystifying land I had just digitally deep-dived into until my eyes burned, fascinated me. A geographical oddity of fantastical, fairytale, typography combined with a human history of troglodytes who etched their peculiar architecture on the region’s soft stone. I was instantly obsessed and booked flights to Nevşehir immediately.
I am fairly sure this is where George Lucas got some of his inspiration from; I kept expecting Jawas to appear from the carved out doors of the cone-shaped rock formations.
The highest rated hotel in Cappadocia on Tripadvisor is Kayakapi Premium Caves, but we soon realised it wasn’t your average ‘hotel’. The Cultural and Natural Environment Conservation and Revitalization Project of Kayakapi ( Kayakapi Project for short) is about conserving and restoring the historical structures within the 800 year old Kayakapi neighbourhood, which was one of the first residential areas of Cappadocia. In 1984-5, the government rehoused the last remaining cave dwellers to the town in the valley below and the site was left to fade back into nature.
Fortunately, the Dinler family, who own a number of other properties in Cappadocia, set up the project and the site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. ‘Opened for operation on the 1st of May 2013, we are at the beginning of a long journey’ says Mustafa Dinler, the owner, in his personal letter that was left for me on the desk in our living room.
Each cave/suite is named after the last living family that inhabited it, and it is personal and historical touches like these that have made the project such a success. The rooms are built around the existing 800-year-old cave structures with the intention to immerse guests in the original life of the Kayakapi residents, but with some modern touches for maximum comfort.
The rooms range from 42m2 right up to 253m2 for Kuşçuoğlu Konağı’s former ‘cave mansion’. Ours was what I would imagine an Arabian Prince’s weekend home to be like; cosy, numerous fireplaces, carpets and antiques everywhere, and of course your own private Hammam.
Each room is different dependent on the cave’s shape; some have incredible views, others have private heated indoor or outdoors pools.
The highlight of the trip was of course the infamous hot air balloon rides over the otherworldly natural sites; the moonscapes of Ürgüp, Göreme and Uçhisar, where erosion has formed caves, clefts, pinnacles, “fairy chimneys” and sensuous folds in the soft volcanic rock, the Bronze Age homes carved out by cave-dwellers and the 100m-deep Ihlara Canyon’s rock-face churches. I am fairly sure this is where George Lucas got some of his inspiration from; I kept expecting Jawas to appear from the carved out doors of the cone-shaped rock formations.
Royal Balloon Cappadocia, is a sister company to the Kayakapi Project so your hot air balloon ride is a piece of Baklava to organise. Our pilots were Suat Ulusoy and Ali Kebabci and they made us feel safe and even made us laugh which was a relief because we were both actually dreading the prospect of going 2000 meters up in a air in a balloon where the wind controls most of the journey.
The experience was almost unreal, and felt even more dreamlike because it happens at sunrise. It’s 5am and you are half asleep on the coach and at breakfast and then suddenly you’re stood next to a blazing fire and watching the biggest balloon you have ever seen rise from the ground, climbing into a basket full of friendly strangers and watching the sunrise while over 100 balloons go up in the air. I had seen this in pictures but I thought only that many went up during an annual festival but Suat assured me it was like this every morning, all year and that it was especially beautiful when it snowed. I could only imagine.
The balloon ride isn’t the only thing to do in Cappadocia, if you can stay for a few days visit the fresco-adorned rock-cut churches of Göreme Open-Air Museum or the subterranean cities of Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı, go on the most epic hike ever or make your own pottery in Avanos. Or just relax by the pool at Kayakapi and watch the swallows as the playfully circle around and go for quick skims on the pool for a well-deserved cooldown while you eat a coconut Turkish delight.
Cappadocia’s sepia-toned lunarscape has a mystique and allure I had never quite experienced before and would happily experience again; perhaps in a winter month, alone, for contemplation, rejuvenation and a little perspective which I think is important in this day and age – let yourself be in awe of nature.
Images courtesy of Kayakapi, Royal Balloon and some taken
by Tijana Tamburic
March 22, 2016