In central Anatolia, about three hours south of the capital of Ankara, is Cappadocia, one of the most popular areas to visit in Turkey. Renowned for its “fairy chimneys” – wind-swept rock formations that sprout from the landscape looking like stone mushrooms, Flintstone dwellings and phalluses – and vast network of caves, many of which served as places of worship for early Christians, Cappadocia has an unforgettable mix of the natural, mystical and historical. It is for these reasons that Cappadocia was one of the first sites in Turkey to be named to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
While the technical boundaries of Cappadocia’s UNESCO site lie within the town of Göreme, the Cappadocia region is vast, covering about 100 square miles. Within this area are dozens of towns, many of which are equipped with cave hotel accommodations, the region’s most sought-after lodging. But with so many cave hotels to choose from – and so many new caves being dug out to handle the influx of tourists seeking that “authentic” Cappadocia experience, how do you know where to stay? I’ve stayed in Cappadocia on numerous occasions and can recommend the following towns for a vacation.
Most visitors to Cappadocia choose to stay in the town of Göreme, which is the site of the Göreme Open-Air Museum. The walkable and well-tended outdoor museum has the most extensive collection of medieval, fresco-adorned rock churches, and forms the basis of Cappadocia’s UNESCO status. Because Göreme is the hub of tourist activity for the region, it has the most facilities, from luxury caves to affordable backpacker accommodations. The town, which is about 1.5 miles from the open-air museum, has restaurants, shops, transportation options, and a tourist information center where you can book an English-speaking guide.
In Göreme, I stayed at the Kelebek Hotel, an inn with 36 cave lodging options. The Kelebek sits on a ridge and has some views over the town.
Thinking they’ll escape the more touristy trappings of Göreme, some travelers opt to stay in Ürgüp, a town about 15 miles south of the open-air museum. Ürgüp’s downtown is quieter and feels more elegant than the well-trodden sidewalks of Göreme. And where Göreme’s accommodations bunch up around a convenient downtown, Ürgüp’s lodging choices are spread out like a blanket, making it a better choice for travelers who have their own car. Whether Ürgüp is more touristy than Göreme is hard to say. Ironically, its reputation as the alternative to Göreme has led to its popularity with group tours. Nevertheless, Ürgüp seemed, to me, to have more breathing room.
The Esbelli Evi, a collection of old Turkish homes and cave dwellings brought together by the friendly, modern and bohemian stylings of Suha Ersoz, is my favorite place to stay in Ürgüp.
Of all the towns to stay in the Cappadocia region, Mustafapaşa is the village I find most appealing. One arrives in Mustafapaşa by taking the road to Ürgüp then turning south to drive deeper into the valley. Mustafapaşa, also known by its old Greek name Sinasos, has echoes of the same Cappadocian Greek Orthodox heritage found in the frescoes in the Göreme UNESCO site. A portion of Mustafapaşa’s center has some distinctly Greek structures and it is also home to the Old Greek House that serves as both an inn (upstairs) and family-style restaurant (downstairs).
As for cave accommodations in Mustafapaşa, my family and I felt very comfortable at the Ukabeyn Cappadocia Lodge, a quiet hotel equipped with a pool.
[Photos: Top two photos are copyright Melanie Renzulli; bottom photo of Mustafapaşa structure copyright Flickr user turcolive]