A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cappadocia is the Turkish Anatolian region southeast of Ankara. Once surrounded by volcanoes, it has been repeatedly buried by lava and ash over millions of years. Today, it is famous for its incredible eroded volcanic rock formations and the cave hotels carved directly into them, especially in the villages of Ürgüp, Göreme and Uchisar. Although some of these hotels offer the heights of luxury, most, like Melekler Evi and the Kayadam Cave House, are run by local families and have only two or three rooms. Is it any wonder that Cappadocia is visited by almost one million people per year?
Cappadocia is also rich in history, with archaeological evidence of inhabitation since prehistoric times. Unfortunately, most visitors – and even some locals – don’t know that besides the cave churches, mummies, underground cities and moonscape rocks, there are also newly uncovered Roman pools and beautiful villages hidden in primitive little-visited valleys.
In spite of its historic and natural qualities, Soganli Valley remains far off the beaten Cappadocian track. It has stunning scenery, cave churches and monasteries… and Soganli Village is where the famous handmade wooden dolls of Cappadocia are produced.
Until tourists showed an interest in them, these dolls were no more than children’s toys. Today, however, increasingly widespread attention to them has contributed to the growth of tourism in the area and provided the women with important extra income. The steady rise in demand has even made it possible for the men to join in the process instead of searching for work outside the village.
These ‘Soganli dolls’ are now bought in bulk and distributed to souvenir shops throughout Turkey, where they’re sold for US$2-5, depending on the size. Of course buying directly from the women in the village centre means the profit stays with them.
For more, visit the Cappadocian Doll Museum in Mustafapasa, 5km south of Ürgüp.
Sobessos Ancient City
Still unknown, yet soon certain to be added to tour itineraries, are the newly discovered Roman baths in the Sobessos Ancient City, the only late-Roman/early-Byzantine settlement in the greater Cappadocia area. It’s located in the Sahinefendi Village, on the way to Soganli Valley, 30-40 kilometres southeast of the tourist accommodation hubs.
Eating like a Local
The area’s volcanic soil is very fertile, and the local agricultural products are keystones of Cappadocian cuisine, built around cherries, apricots, wheat, potatoes, chickpeas and of course the grapes for local wine. Throughout the area, some families will cook traditional Cappadocian meals for visitors. Reserve through local agents or hotels, at least five or six hours in advance.
There are also small “Lokanta” restaurants that, if not offering the best service, are very reasonably priced (US$7-10). Travellers in Ürgüp should try Sofra; in Avanos visit Dayinin Yeri, a delicious kebap house.
General Travel Hints
* The best times to visit are in April and October, when temperatures make outdoor activities possible. If coming during the hot season (June through August), time visits carefully. For example, go to the underground city around noon when it‘s a stifling 35-40°C but comfortable in the cave.
* All villages can be reached by Dolmuş from bus terminals (called Otogars) in all the major towns, fares ranging from 2-5 Turkish Liras.
* The most crowded place in Cappadocia is the Göreme Open Air Museum, 2km outside Göreme Village (accessible by Dolmuş or rented bike). Go early in the morning or during lunch when the tour groups are elsewhere.