Real-life Star Wars: The surreal lunar landscape of Turkey’s Cappadocia is so mesmerising that… you’ll be moonstruck
- Steve Thomas is a regular guest at Kale Konak, a cave hotel in Cappadocia run by ‘gregarious Abdullah’
- Rooms here are reached and linked by tunnels deep beneath the castle in hilltop village Uchisar
- ‘[Uchisar] is carved into a huge rocky outcrop and looks like something from a Star Wars film set,’ says Steve
- Cappadocia is now a year-round tourist hotspot, so autumn and winter are arguably the best times to visit
Wielding his meat cleaver, the charismatic owner and singing chef of the House of Memories restaurant in Uchisar swiftly decapitates the clay pot and pours out the slow-cooked lamb stew.
The dish is known as a testi kebab and it’s his speciality. As he does so, a three-legged Kangal dog hops by and gazes on in anticipation. These giant Anatolian livestock guard dogs are commonplace in this part of Cappadocia, the famous volcanic region in central Turkey.
I’ve returned again and again — to eat in the same restaurant and to stay at the Kale Konak, a small and traditional cave hotel run by gregarious Abdullah, with its own resident Kangal named Barden.
Rooms here — and Turkish bath — are reached and linked by tunnels deep beneath the castle in hilltop Uchisar.
Steve Thomas stays in hotel Kale Konak, which has rooms located beneath the castle in hilltop village Uchisar (above)
Steve explains that Kale Konak (above) is ‘a small and traditional cave hotel run by gregarious Abdullah’
Double rooms at Kale Konak (above), cost from £95 B&B
It’s carved into a huge rocky outcrop and looks like something from a Star Wars film set. The 40 sq km that make up the Unesco World Heritage Site of central Cappadocia are now a year-round tourist hotspot, so autumn and winter are arguably the best times to visit.
All year round, blurry-eyed tourists clamber to snap photos and videos of the region’s famous low-flying hot-air balloons before moving on to the next hotspot — and a sunrise flight is a real treat (at a cost of around 180 euros).
But these fleeting visits mean missing out on the real Cappadocia. The lunar-like landscape was formed 60 million years ago by lava from nearby volcanoes, of which the often snow-capped Mount Erciyes (Argeus) is the most prominent.
Cappadocia has been inhabited since the Hittite era and was a trading post on the old Silk Road. Later, Jews and Christians fled Roman persecution and settled here. Many hand-carved churches and monasteries still have remarkably intact frescos, and Saint George is believed to have been born here.
These days, most caves are empty, although in the main towns many have been converted into hotels. Entire underground cities were also carved out later, to hide from Arab invaders, and many are now open to visitors.
And from the lofty terrace beneath Uchisar Castle, walk 10 minutes downhill in any direction and the hordes are gone. The more you walk, the more you will find. The nearest hike is through Pidgeon Valley — a kaleidoscope of colour in spring and autumn. Perched on the valley rim is the tiny Kocabag (pronounced Koschbazsh) Winery & shop, which produces superb local wines and is a must visit for après-hike tipples.
Cappadocia was formed 60 million years ago by lava from nearby volcanoes, of which the often snow-capped Mount Erciyes (Argeus, above) is the most prominent
Pidgeon Valley is ‘a kaleidoscope of colour in spring and autumn’, says Steve, adding: ‘Perched on the valley rim is the tiny Kocabag (pronounced Koschbazsh) Winery & shop, which produces superb local wines and is a must visit for apres-hike tipples’
The valley winds through the high desert landscape and is flanked by the terraced cave-based structures of Uchisar and several deserted cave houses, churches and other structures, while farmers grow fruit and vegetables in the fertile valley bottoms.
These dwellings are even more prominent in the valleys out of Goreme and Cavusin, and have mostly been derelict for decades.
The lovable giant dogs, welcoming locals and great wine are reason enough to visit Cappadocia — but it’s also the accessible solitude and sublime beauty of the valleys that make it such an exhilarating part of the world.