After enjoying an introduction to Turkey in Istanbul, it was time to take a bus to Cappadocia. I was quite excited to be heading away from the main city having repeatedly heard of Cappadocia’s treasures! And moreover, we were staying in one of the oldest original Cave Hotels of Cappadocia, Esbelli Evi.
Istanbul to Cappadocia
Most blogs on the internet suggested taking a flight from Istanbul to Cappadocia but we figured that since the airports in Cappadocia are not located close to Urgüp or Goreme, the bus was a better option. Both Kayseri and Nevsehir airports are at a 1 hour distance from Cappadocia and shuttles ply from these places to Cappadocia. More research revealed that the shuttles were quite expensive and cost around 30-35 TL (Turkish Lira) per person.
Distance between Istanbul and Cappadocia is around 750 kms and takes around 12-14 hours in a bus. Since we had never taken a bus in Turkey before, we were a bit uncertain about how/where/when. In due course of time after asking the locals, we understood that it was best to take a Kamil Koç night bus and that the tickets will be priced at around 130 TL. We somehow made it to a Kamil Koç office nearby via the tram and decided to book a ticket in advance for an evening bus the next day.
We took a direct bus from Istanbul Esenler Otogar to Ürgüp Otogar and paid 125 TL for it after requesting for an indirim (discount). The bus left sharp at 5 pm and was supposed to drop us to Urgup at 6-7 am in the morning. It turned out to be a great decision since the bus was very comfortable, had wifi, butler service for tea/coffee/snacks/water and charging points. The sunset colours and sunrise hues were beautiful as viewed from the windows as we reached Urgup; and a stray hot air balloon or two!
It was cold and windy as the bus dropped us at Ürgüp Otogar. Esbelli Evi was hardly 1.3 kms away and the taxi guys quoted 30 TL for the same. We opted to walk and were happily surprised to walk on cobbled streets just after exiting the main road. The path to Esbelli Evi was delightful in itself; autumn colours dominated the surroundings. A crimson shade of red creepers grew on almost every outdoor wall in the historical neighbourhood where Esbelli Evi was located.
We entered Esbelli Evi and the owner Suha was there to personally greet us. The staff showed us to our suite as we had our first glimpse of the raw beauty of this cave hotel in Cappadocia. There was a gorgeous sit out outside the room and the room itself was huge. To compliment the surroundings, the soft warm lights gave a very soothing effect. The weather had already turned quite cold in November and we were happy to notice modern but aesthetically pleasing heaters in the room.
We felt like little kids; exploring nooks and crannies of this cave paradise all the while wondering if we would stumble upon a hidden treasure! The owner, Suha and the staff is ever present to help you with any of your needs while being totally non intrusive; exactly how you might feel at home 🙂 We were ushered into the Colorband Cave Suite, with natural colour bands in the rocks. Esbelli Evi is truly special in the sense that there are all the modern amenities in a luxurious setting but the home retains an authentic feel.
Esbelli Evi is among the first Cave hotels in Cappadocia to restore the original cave houses and turn them into a luxury hotel. On a walking tour around Esbelli Evi, Suha Ersoz (the owner) told us that he spent seven years in restoring the abandoned cave dwellings to create Esbelli Evi what it is. ‘Evi’ means home in Turkish. It is seemingly perfect that Esbelli Evi is more like a home than hotel and the tagline is ‘A Cosy Cave Inn’. It is incredible to know that some parts of Esbelli Evi date back to the 3rd century.
A few noteworthy highlights at Esbelli Evi :
- Antique brass beds and stone interiors of every room. No two rooms are similar even though there are 9 suites and 4 cave rooms at Esbelli Evi. Every room is artistically furnished with kilims (Turkish handwoven rugs) on the wooden floors and has a kitchenette with a fine collection of teas and coffee.
- Every suite has their own gardens and cosy sitting rooms. Esbelli Evi undoubtedly feels more like a home than a hotel.
- The family suite : Perfect for families with young children. For an authentic cave-dweller experience with natural and original cave ceilings! An example of the originality of Esbelli Evi is the fact that one of the bedrooms was once used for pressing grapes when almost every home in Cappadocia made their own wine!
- There’s also a reading room with an eclectic collection of books and CDs and a living room with gorgeous rugs and antique Ottoman design hangings. There are also mountain bikes and washing machines for guests to use. A unique feature is the honesty drink bar fully stocked with tea, coffee, beer and wine.
- Esbelli Evi is located on an uphill climb, a short walk from the road from Urgup towards Goreme. The stay at Esbelli Evi is so memorable that we wondered once or twice if we should actually go seeing sights around Cappadocia! I am not really someone who eulogises a stay experience, but Esbelli Evi has become an intrinsic part of our time in Cappadocia.
- Some suites have their own private entry from the street while others have a private garden terrace. There are extensive open air sit-outs that afford great views of the Cappadocian landscape while cosy nooks in Esbelli Evi allow relaxed romantic afternoons spent sipping wine under vine-covered canopies.
- The Honeymoon Cave Suite is aptly named; with four interconnected cave rooms including a hallway and cave closet, a private garden terrace.
Since we had reached quite early in the morning, it was already time for breakfast. Breakfasts at Esbelli Evi are served on a rooftop terrace overlooking the small town of Ürgüp. It is a delightful spread of freshly squeezed juices, vegetables, seasonal fruits, varieties of cheese, breads and cakes, jams and preserves. Eggs can be made to order and I have fond memories of the perfect Turkish coffee at Esbelli Evi. For cold days, there is warm and cosy indoor seating as well.
Suha drops by to personally chat with each guest and check if they need help with planning or any recommendations.
Introduction to Cappadocia (Pronounced Kapadokya)
The surreal scenery of Cappadocia is the result of a massive volcanic eruption around 30 million years ago and subsequent natural erosion over thousands of years has resulted in a scarcely believable landscape of towers, fairy chimneys and caverns. Cappadocia region is huge with many towns and cities. Among a plethora of multiple sights to see are stunning valleys comprising of cave dwellings, churches, historic underground cities and more.
Cappadocia is a wide geographical area situated in the middle of Turkey and is over 1000 metres in altitude. Rainfall is sparse in Cappadocia and it has hot dry summers and bitterly cold snowy winters. Except during the time of heavy snowfall, Cappadocia is a year round destination where the different seasons have their own charm in shaping the experience of a traveller.
The climate is extreme in Cappadocia but the soil is rich in minerals. A variety of fruits and vegetables are grown here and are fine in quality too. Many varieties of grapes are grown in Cappadocia which also has a rich tradition of making wine. Turkish wine is excellent quality with reasonably priced wines (30TL for a bottle) and Cappadocia has many vineyards and wineries.
Cave churches in Cappadocia are a novel experience – Some of these cave churches have original frescoes dating back to the 11th century. These days, the highlight of Cappadocia is during early morning, when hundreds of colourful hot-air balloons cover the sky.
Visit to Gorëmë
When we walked to Goreme town main square; we were extremely surprised (and a little disappointed) to see every travel agency promote the same trips; green valley tour and red valley tour and hot air balloon rides. These tours were in buses with fixed plans and large groups; which I have never been interested in. The prices for the green valley tour were fixed at 33 Euros per person (Euros rather than Turkish Lira); which meant it was certain that these groups were full of annoying selfie-taking tourists!
There was the option of renting a taxi for an entire day for the green valley tour which would cost us around 250 TL (excluding tickets) which didn’t sound value for money. Another option of self renting a car was there, which would cost around 250 TL per day too, and fuel expenses were extra! So, we just opted to walk, take the various dolmus options and explore Cappadocia.
A Basic Guide of What to see in Cappadocia
Goreme Open Air Museum
The walk out of Esbelli Evi led us towards the main road to Goreme where the Goreme Open Air Museum is located. A short 10 minute dolmus ride (10 mins, 4 TL) left us outside the super crowded UNESCO World Heritage Site – Goreme Open Air Museum. It was definitely a surprise since the Turkey trip had been planned with the notion that it was November and low season!
Entry was quite expensive at around 35 TL per person but it was worth for a glimpse of the cave churches and monasteries with fresco paintings, the unique Cappadocian landscape with fairy chimneys. Entry to see the frescos of the Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise) requires an extra 10 TL per person entrance fee.
Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley)
Devrent Valley is a just ten minute drive from both Urgup and Goreme towns. It is also called Imagination Valley where a little imagination will cause you to spot various shapes of animals and figures in the valley. And if you let your creativity go berserk, then tourists are known to have imagined dophins and dragons too in Devrent valley. These shapes are nothing but fairy chimneys where the top layer of rock has prevented the softer and lower layer from erosion, thereby creating unique shapes!
Zelve Open Air Museum
Zelve open air museum is an open air museum comprising of valleys and is an abandoned cave town. It was home to a large community which lived in the caves until 1952, when it was deemed too dangerous to live here for risk of the caves collapsing.
At Zelve Open Air Museum it is interesting to notice the various abandoned homes and churches, and imagining how people would have lived there. It was extraordinary to explore the valleys and come across the old mill to grind grains, an old church and a rock -cut mosque.
Pasabag Valley (Monks Valley)
Pasabag Valley (Pronounced Pashabag) is located quite close to Devrent Valley and is also called as Monk’s Valley. It is the ideal place to visit to appreciate Cappadocia’s iconic fairy chimneys. The name monk’s valley was also given to Pasabag Valley due to this being the monks’ refuge place when they started living here. The monks’ home was quite unique – They would start by carving rooms at the bottom of the fairy chimney and then working their way to the top. It is said that they used to only descend once in every few days to receive food and drink from their disciples.
Uchisar Castle is a high point in Cappadocia. The closely linked cave dwellings and pigeon houses of Uchisar Castle are visible from afar.
Uchisar Castle is a fascinating fortress and many of its rooms are connected via a network of stairs, passages and tunnels. Although due to erosion most of Uchisar castle is closed to tourists now. From the top of Uchisar one is rewarded with a beautiful 360-degree panorama of the surrounding valleys. If it is clear, it is also possible to have a glimpse of the snow bound Mount Erciyes off in the distance.
Kaymakali Underground City
The ancient underground cave-cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu are a must visit to immerse deeper into Cappadocia’s ancient time.
Kaymakli is Cappadocia’s widest and largest underground cave city. This underground city was built during the Hittite times and archeologists believe that as many as 3,500 people could have lived in Kaymakli underground city at one time. For tourists and visitors, only four of the eight floors have been opened to the public. For people with claustrophobia, Kaymakali is less claustrophobic than Derinkuyu making it easier to explore.
Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu Underground City is at a short distance from Kaymakli Underground City. There are many other underground cities in Cappadocia. These underground cities were not built as permanent dwellings but as a refuge during the times of attacks or war.
Derinkuyu underground city is like a secret abode which has more than 15000 ventilation ducts that provide fresh air even deep beneath the ground. Some parts of the underground city are still accessed to store food, wine and belongings. Derinkuyu underground city has some very narrow passageways where only one person can walk at one time and it can get very claustrophobic since it goes 7-8 storeys below the ground level.
Ihlara Valley is a gorge in Cappadocia region located around 60-70 kms from Urgup and Goreme. It is a fabulous area for hiking with cave monasteries, a river flowing by and churches. The walk through the valley is wonderful.
Love Valley (Baglidere Valley) is named such as there are large phallic structures in the valley. These giant penis-shaped structures have been caused by natural erosion although they seem like a homage to male fertility. There are no charges for entry at Love Valley in Cappadocia and it is a nice walk through these structures.
Pigeon Valley (Guvercinlik Valley) is so called due to the tiny pigeon houses carved into soft stone in this valley from many years ago. Pigeons were used as message carriers and their droppings as a source of fertiliser in the old days. In Pigeon valley, tiny holes were thereby carved wherever there was space so that pigeons can inhabit this space, as their droppings are used as fertilisers for top quality fruits.
Red Valley & Rose Valley
These are named so because of the colour pattern of the valleys. Red Valley & Rose Valley are best visited in the evening hours when the sun colours the valley pink! It is a very sought after spot for pre-wedding shoots these days.
Pottery in Avanos
Avanos town in Cappadocia has a rich and historical tradition of pottery making (since 2000 BC) with red clay of the river as it is located on the banks of Kizilirmak river. Most of the pottery makers in Avanos are practising this art for generations and are family run!
Experiences in Cappadocia
Sunset in Cappadocia
There are specific photo spots in almost every valley in Cappadocia that tourists visit. It guarantees stunning photographs during evening hours and sunset overlooking the Red Valley is highly recommended.
Also, keep a wish ready at one of the many wish trees that you encounter in Cappadocia. It is a Turkish tradition to make a wish at the wish tree!
Walk in the streets
Everything about Cappadocia is artistic; right from the places of stay, to the cafés, restaurants, souvenir shops and the whole colour pattern of every town! So, just walk without an aim and experience Cappadocia in the real sense.
Photography at a hot air balloon landing site
While the hot air balloon ride itself is said to be a must-do in Cappadocia, it can be quite expensive at 150 Euros and out of bounds for most budget travellers. A good idea would be to visit the hot air balloon landing site and click nice photographs of the balloons with the Cappadocian landscape!
Winery in Cappadocia
Cappadocia region produces fine varieties of grapes and there are many wineries in the areas surrounding Urgup, Goreme, Uchisar and other towns. We visited Turasan Winery and Kocabag winery and loved the Emir variety while Okuzguzu Bogazgere and Kalecik Karasi were my absolute favourite! Cost is quite reasonable from 23TL per bottle.
Trying Local food in Cappadocia
While there are delicacies like Lahmaçun, pide and baklava that are local to Turkey but those can be found everywhere across the country, a dish unique to Cappadocia is the pottery kebab. Pottery kebab is made by cooking the meat in the pot and the pot is served and broken in front of the customer for showing the freshness.
Souvenirs in Cappadocia
Nearly every shop in Cappadocia is bursting with artistic souvenirs and some are quite unique. Walk around to observe these shops. Also, the dry fruit shops in Cappadocia stock very good quality stuff. Sometimes you may need to haggle to buy things at the correct price.
Museum Pass for Cappadocia
While I didn’t buy the museum pass due to inconclusive information, it makes sense to buy the Museum Pass in Cappadocia. The Cappadocia Museum pass is valid for three days, costs 130TL and includes entrance to the below attractions : Goreme Open Air Museum, Ihlara Valley, Zelve Open Air Museum, Kaymakli Underground City, Ozkonak Underground City, Derinkuyu Underground City. It does result in a reasonable saving overall while exploring the sights of Cappadocia.
Note : I stayed with Esbelli Evi on a collaboration. The experiences, thoughts and words are all mine.