A Hidden Side of Turkey’s Cappadocia: How to Go Where Others Don’t

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 26 January 2009

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?

The Ihlara Canyon in Cappadocia is just one of many natural wonders in the area

The Ihlara Canyon is the largest gorge of Cappadocia, a natural and historic wonder. The formations seen here are near Selime Village, near where a Star Wars movie was filmed.

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.

The local doll market of Soganli Village is the best place to buy Cappadocia's famous handmade dolls

The local doll market of Soganli Village is the best place to buy Cappadocia's famous handmade dolls.

Soganli Valley

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.

These women are from the villages of southern Cappadocia. The people of Cappadocia still store potatoes in caves. Before selling them, they must sort the good from the bad, the latter being cut into pieces and to animals.

This woman is from a village of southern Cappadocia. The people of Cappadocia still store potatoes in caves. Before selling them, the good must be sorted from the bad, the latter being cut into pieces and fed to animals.

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.

For more information about Cappadocia, including accommodations, tours, activities, all your travel needs, and lots of insider tips, contact your local whl.travel connection: Zafer Yazıcı and the team from Lirita Tours at www.cappadocia.travel.

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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architecture & landmarks, Asia, caves, food & drink, human interests, local knowledge, responsible travel, Turkey, Western Asia, whl.travel, world heritage,

3 Responses to “A Hidden Side of Turkey’s Cappadocia: How to Go Where Others Don’t”

  1. muskara says:

    A traditional Cappadocian zone White stone made lovely hotel (19 roomed) in heart of Cappadocia located near Goreme and center of Cavusin location.

    Muskara Cave Hotel has 19 rooms (15 Standard rooms, plus 4 cutted Stone made superior rooms) in and all rooms has Bathroom/toilet cabin, heating system, hairdryer, confortable beds, Old historical carved Churchview rooms, Garden view rooms, rose valley view room, panoramic view room, regular Balloon depart field rooms.

    We have 7/24 Free pick-up service any time any Bus station around Cappadocia to our hotel.

  2. zafer says:

    As the owner and operator of destination Cappadocia, I will thank all of the WHL Team who put their time and effort on this article. Cappadocia is more beautiful than you can see on the photos.

  3. Greg Hiemenz says:

    What a great article! Very informative and well written. I makes me want to go now. Thanks

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