Istanbul skyline at dusk

Istanbul skyline at dusk ()

Over millions of years, erosion created giant “fairy chimneys,” thousands of cone- or tower-shaped rock formations in the beautiful Cappadocia region of Türkiye. For more than 1,500 years, people carved shelters in these natural structures, developing fascinating villages, isolated from the rest of civilization.

Göreme Open-Air Museum: We spent hours exploring here with audio guides and umbrellas. Göreme was home to monks between the 10th and 12th centuries. Most of the accessible caves are churches that have frescoes telling stories from the Bible. The Buckle (Tokali) Church is a small-scale cathedral with carved archways, alcoves and brilliant murals. To reach the hidden Dark Church requires a shimmy through a dark passageway. Once inside, you are surrounded by preserved, highly detailed frescoes.

Zelve Open-Air Museum: Visitors walk among several civic, religious and private caves, which were abandoned in the 1950s. Above the parking lot is a ridge providing fantastic views of the landscape.

Kaymakli Underground City: Cappadocia’s underground cities are as extraordinary as the cave dwellings. Kaymakli is the largest, eight levels of tunnels and cavities used as shelter for thousands of people during periods of unrest between the 2nd and 10th centuries. I recommend hiring a guide because onsite information is scarce, and it is easy to get lost inside.

Gamirasu Cave Hotel: I envisioned a two-night retreat at a cave hotel emphasizing authenticity. A quick online search revealed the Gamirasu Cave Hotel, praised by Forbes, Business Week, Budget Travel, the Telegraph, MSN and Frommer’s.

Restored as the first hotel in Cappadocia, Gamirasu’s caverns were once part of a Christian monastery. The commune’s kitchen serves the same purpose today, and guests enjoy meals where the monks broke bread 1,000 years ago.

The hotel has 35 rooms, including a variety of suites and family accommodations. If you reserve through, you can usually get cheaper rates than those advertised on the hotel’s website. Free perks include WiFi, breakfast and shuttle service to the nearby village of Urgup.

We stayed during low season and were upgraded to a king suite that included a Turkish bath and tiled hot tub. The Turkish furnishings, exposed rock walls and grand bathroom provided a glamorized version of Cappadocia’s remarkable way of life.

Cuisine: Gamirasu is in a remote area, so we had dinner at the hotel both evenings. The regional products and specialties were delicious and fairly priced. Whether at Gamirasu or elsewhere in Cappadocia, order Tetsi kebap, a stew of meat and veggies cooked in a sealed clay pot that is broken for serving. Also sample local wines, dates, honey, jellies and dried apricots.

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