Hidden Cappadocia: Five Ways to Experience Off-the-Beaten-Track Beauty

Hidden Cappadocia: Five Ways to Experience Off-the-Beaten-Track Beauty

Beyond the tourist trail, Turkey’s otherworldly region harbours untouched villages, nomadic tribes and well-hidden ancient treasures. Here’s how to find them

visitors to Cappadocia take a ludicrously short
whistle-stop tour cramming as many of the region’s plentiful sights
as possible into just a couple of days. Yet there’s much more to
this region than simply following the crowds and jostling for
camera space with busloads of tourists all on the same organised
tour. Without doubt, the jaw-dropping frescoes of Goreme’s rock
churches, the panoramas at Uchisar Castle, the Instagram-famous,
heart-shaped swings of Love Valley and of course the obligatory
hot-air-balloon ride at sunrise all deserve your time. However,
those with a thirst for history, nature and culture could easily
spend an extra week here and still not have all of the attractions

Exploring Cappadocia’s off-the-beaten-track beauty will uncover
lesser-known gems that are often as impressive as the main sights,
but without the accompanying crowds. Here’s a guide to some of the
best places that a standard tour simply won’t include.

Visit a farming and grape-harvesting village far from the main
tourist scene

Picture a peaceful and scenic village, without a single tourist
in sight. Elderly women in headscarves work earnestly on their
land, while the unmistakable fruity fragrance of freshly pressed
grapes travels along the balmy breeze, delighting the senses. Here,
amid the harvest scenes, lies a secret church so well hidden from
the conventional tourist trail that you’ll need to track down a
village elder to lend you the key. The tiny, barely inhabited,
wine-harvesting area of Cemil is a true hidden treasure, and locals
are keen to share its secrets with those who venture there.

Although it is nearby Mustafapasa, which is usually billed as an
off-the-beaten-track location, its fading frescoes and interiors
mean the lesser publicised Cemil is a better bet – and, arguably,
the location is more picturesque. These quarters were left
abandoned following the 1923 population exchange agreement, where

were returned to their country of origin and vice versa.
The location now has an air of haunted spirituality. Besides the
church, where you’re likely to be the only visitor, nearby Keslik
is also worth a visit. Once a Byzantine monastery complex, home to
almost 200 monks, it boasts a well-preserved labyrinth of tunnels
carved out of volcanic rock and even the remains of an ancient
winery. Greek alphabet symbols stand out against blackened walls,
while intricate religious frescoes also remain. A visit here merits
a whole day.

Discover the secret activities still taking place in a ghost

Soganli, a spectacular abandoned ghost village, has lain empty
for almost a decade, allegedly with just one single, full-time
resident to its name. This earthquake-ravaged area had been
occupied since Roman times, until the government finally relocated
its few remaining inhabitants. The reason? Rock erosion was
literally disintegrating the surroundings. The cave houses had been
carved out of a perilous rock face, and villagers were prone to
avalanches of boulders raining down into their living quarters.
Rumour has it that one man steadfastly refused to leave his beloved
home, and he is now the sole occupant.

By day, however, a group of women arrive to produce and sell the
local specialty – beautifully embroidered Soganli-brand dolls. The
tradition was initially borne out of a tragedy – when one woman
lost her baby, she created a doll substitute to help her cope with
the trauma. Now it is a full-time business, with some dolls
sparkling in crystal-studded dresses and carrying babies in their
arms in recognition of their origins.

For the adventurous, the pigeon-hole-studded surrounding valley
is compact enough to be hiked in a day. Although the dramatic lunar
landscapes are virtually impossible for travellers to tire of, the
Hidden Apple Garden is the perfect place to stop for lunch should
you need a change of scenery. Around here, the surroundings are
suddenly transformed into lush, verdant countryside. This paradise
garden offers respite from the harsh sun under the shade of its
many fruit trees, and as if the scenery wasn’t enough, meals are
mouth-watering too.

Afterwards, bed down at the Henna Hotel


Ebru Art House: a unique shopping experience for art

The streets of Cappadocia are filled with kitsch trinkets for
the tourist industry, from rock church ornaments to bejewelled hot
air balloons to hang on the wall. Few visitors can resist the
temptation to take a few home – but how about combining mainstream
shopping with a visit to an art house that uses a traditionally
Turkish art form to hand-make products right in front of your eyes?
Guler Hanim is the only artisan in the area to practise Ebru art –
and she delivers an indisputably authentic shopping experience.

She combines a plant resin and horsetail paint brush with
ox-bile and thistle-root-infused paints inside a trough, plus an
ancient, centuries-old marbling technique that was once used as a
regal watermark by sultans. Not merely a symbol of luxury, it had
spiritual significance as well, as it was once used to illustrate
texts in the Qu’ran. Guler can demonstrate how the colours
literally float on water, the miniature wave forms joining to
create patterns, before transferring them onto a silk scarf for
your purchasing pleasure. And the artistically inclined can try
their hand at painting their own scarf, too, if they wish. Guler
also sells reproductions of famous paintings, such as Turtle
Trainer by Osman, the original, 13th-century founder of the Ottoman
Dynasty. A self-styled mystic, Osman used turtle imagery to
represent his followers, whom he saw as slow, simple and in need of
his leadership – a small clue, perhaps, to the size of his ego.
Nonetheless, this – along with many others in Guler’s shop – is a
classic art piece.

Visit an open-air palace and its surroundings, without the

Aksaray is truly one of Cappadocia’s best-kept secrets. The area
was once a significant location on Silk Road trading routes and
consequently travellers can visit ancient, ruined ‘caravanserai’
buildings where traders once camped with their camels en route to
lands afar. ‘Serai’ is derived from the Persian word for ‘palace’ –
and indeed the interiors are suitably majestic even today.

Yet caravanserai aside, the most awe-inspiring palace of all in
these parts is undoubtedly the Open Palace (Aksaray) at Gulsehir. A
monastery complex originally inhabited as early as the sixth
century, its cave buildings, carved from the fairy chimneys, are
filled with tunnel-like passageways to explore. Its impressive
exteriors are reminiscent of Petra
in Jordan, but without the orange hues, while a signature,
mushroom-shaped rock can be found on the ground too. Filming has
recently been taking place there for a secret, as-yet-undisclosed,
TV series, but aside from the occasional cameraman passing by, or
the amusing discovery of fake weaponry planted as props, visitors
are likely to find themselves exploring in blissful solitude.

Finally, the best attraction of all in this area might be the
criminally under-publicised St John Church – a smaller version of
one of the churches in Goreme but without the crowds. Again, expect
to find yourself totally alone, in stark contrast to the pushing
and jostling in top tourist locations like the Buckle Church.

The best Biblical art treasures are on the ceiling, accessed by
an ultra-Instagrammable spiral staircase, with each fresco
detailing an event of spiritual significance.

Visit a yurt-inhabiting Kyrgyz community and learn about tribal

Though scarcely seen by the average tourist, the under-the-radar
Kyrgyz population represents a significant minority in Cappadocia.
Originally nomadic tribes hailing from the mountains of central
Asia, they now pitch colourful tents in the valley, marking the
traditions of their ancestors, and invite travellers to step inside
their world. In this desert-like landscape, often described as the
“land of the beautiful horses”, both Turkish and Kyrgyz people
alike indulge in horseback riding – but that’s where the
similarities between the two cultures end. To the latter, horses
have historically been a vital part of everyday survival. They
drink and cook with mares’ milk, while horse meat is a regular
delicacy on the dinner table. Even their traditional music often
incorporates the beat of horses’ hooves.

Visitors can enter their yurts to see the intricate embroidery
within, try on their traditional clothing and learn the
significance of each garment, ride horses alongside members of the
tribe and try a spot of archery too. Barely publicised, it is an
unmissable window into another world. The nomadic tribes are
notoriously difficult to locate, but a bit of online research and a
call to the Turkish Tourist Board should help to secure
up-to-the-minute locations.

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