If only house-hunting was always this fun

The locals in Cappadocia are friendly, if eccentric. Well, what do you expect from people who live half-way up cliffs? By Claire Gervat

THERE'S A DENTIST in Urgup. I know this because the old woman next to me on the bus to Ortahisar had just been there to have two teeth pulled, a fact she demonstrated with a mime graphic enough to make me wince. Just for a moment, I wondered whether I shouldn't have taken a guided tour after all.

Cappadocia certainly has enough worth visiting to provide the local tour agents with a fistful of day-long itineraries. In this extraordinary part of central Turkey, the ash and mud from volcanic explosions 30 million years ago have formed a soft stone called tuff, which has eroded over time into fanciful shapes. Not only that, generations of inhabitants have carved out cave houses, churches and even underground cities from the rock, so that it is not just the landscape that is worth further investigation.

The small town of Goreme is one of the few places in the area where the rock-cut houses are still in use. Many of them have been restored as simple hotels; Goreme is, along with Urgup, the main place to stay in Cappadocia, as its rows of carpet shops, travel agents and bike hirers show only too clearly. Its chief attraction, though, is a mile and half out of town towards Urgup. Here, at the open-air museum, is a cluster of around 30 rock-cut churches, mostly from the ninth to the 11th century, and each with its own distinguishing characteristics.

The 11th-century church of St Basil, for instance, has long rectangular graves cut into its rock floor; the wall frescos in the slightly newer Church of the Sandals have been badly damaged by graffiti carved into their surfaces (handy if you want to study local teenage romances). These are not the only ruined frescos in the museum. Others have had the eyes on some of the figures deliberately scratched out. My favourite of the churches, though, is Tokali Church, just outside the complex, with its blue-grounded frescoes, and narrow friezes of Christ's life piled up across the vaulted ceiling.

A couple of hours at the Goreme open-air museum should satisfy anyone's appetite for rock-cut churches, and left me with an urge to stray off the tourist trail. So, on my second day in Cappadocia, I jumped on the bus to Ortahisar.

Ortahisar is one of several small villages within the triangle of roads that connect the small towns of Avanos, Nevsehir and Urgup, the most heavily visited part of Cappadocia. It is not on the tour itineraries, however, despite the rock-cut fortress that towers over the village, so you can wander around the tiny lanes that twist below it without bumping into anyone. The place to start is the rock, 86 metres high, that once housed the whole village, a fact that becomes all the more incredible the higher up you go through the bare chambers. Sadly, there are no clues to what daily life here was like, but the view over the village and the surrounding fields from the top makes up for any disappointment on that score, even if you feel a bit like a spy as you look down into people's courtyards.

Back on solid ground, I wandered down the dusty lanes below the fortress, scattering chickens in my path and dodging the animal droppings; no prizes for guessing that agriculture is still the main business in this village.

Backing out of an alleyway that had come to a dead end at a particularly pungent stable, I nearly fell over a hunched-over old woman struggling up the hill. She recovered quickly enough from the shock to ask if I was on my own. "One? Two?" she questioned. "One," I replied, using up my entire Turkish vocabulary in one go. Ah, she seemed to say, me too, but what can you do? And she carried on up the hill.

Twenty minutes later, I saw her sitting with four other women in the doorway to a courtyard, eating lunch. They beckoned me over to join them in their meal of bread, watermelon, grapes and a paste made of ground spices and olive oil. Nothing as trivial as linguistic barriers were going to stop my hosts finding out everything they could. In return, I had the chance to study local dress: trousers so baggy they looked like skirts, worn with blouses and knitwear and a double layer of headscarf.

I wandered back to the main road, past caves that were being used to store lemons, looking for the head of Rose Valley, a local beauty spot, and the starting point to a footpath to the next village, Cavusin. The owner of the nearby campsite offered me a lift there; I gratefully accepted. Hitchhiking isn't always the best idea when you're on your own, but the only threat turned out to be to my waistline, since we bumped into some friends who fed us huge slabs of pide (Turkish pizza) off the bonnet of his car.

The top of Rose Valley is a popular viewpoint, especially at sunset, when the rocks glow red and orange in the warm light and the car park fills with coaches. Earlier in the day it's quieter and I scrambled alone down the path past a small group of buildings that looked like stone wigwams.

The walk through Rose Valley and neighbouring Red Valley goes through fields and over ridges, past rock-cut churches (which are dangerously hard to climb into) and decorated pigeon houses so high up you wonder how they were carved out.

It was almost a relief to reach Cavusin and see shops and cafes. Most of the village's inhabitants have had to move out of their cave houses because they became too dangerous, as at nearby Zelve, now an open-air museum. However, you can still visit the fifth-century Church of St John the Baptist, as long as you don't suffer from vertigo, as it's in a perilous position halfway up a cliff face.

The churches are a good excuse for exploring, and the next day I headed south from Urgup to look at the little-visited Pancarlik group of churches. It turned into an opportunity for a country walk, with glimpses into other people's lives. Just after the turning off the main road there was a group of stone houses like Ku Klux Klan hoods; they looked rather as if they might be in use. Farther along, a man was tilling the fields with a mule-drawn plough. Farther still, a farmer was praying in the open, the call to prayer from Urgup plainly audible through the clear air.

Back in Urgup, footsore and weary, I wandered round the last few stalls of the weekly market. Nothing there to buy (fresh fish makes a bad souvenir), so I turned to the handicraft shops. In every one the owner offered a little cup of strong black sugary tea and a chair by the stove - the evenings are chilly, outside of mid-summer. Even buying a long-distance bus ticket seems to entitle you to tea and a chair by the stove. Or perhaps I just looked thirsty.

I was certainly hungry. The third day in Cappadocia hadn't turned up any free meals, so I settled into the nearest family restaurant, enticed by the smell of roast lamb. It was quiet, the off-season, so the waiter laid the table next to the stove and left the television on for me. Just as well he did; I found out that the Smurfs aren't nearly as annoying in Turkish as they are in English. Not that that's what you'd go all the way to Cappadocia to find out, of course.

A break on the Black Sea coast, page 7

cappadocia fact file

Getting there

Turkish Airlines (0171-766 9300) has one flight a week from Heathrow to Kayseri via Istanbul for pounds 260 return including tax. Or fly to Ankara, four hours by express bus or car from Cappadoccia: Turkish Airlines (pounds 250), Cyprus Turkish Airlines (0171-930 4851, pounds 280). It's 12 hours by bus from Istanbul: the lowest fare with British Airways (0345 222111) and Istanbul Airlines (0181-688 7555) is pounds 159 return. The flight from there to Kayseri (daily with Turkish Airlines) is pounds 55 each way.

Getting around

There are plenty of organised tours available locally for around $20- 25 a day, if you prefer not to drive or rely on the patchy bus services. Car hire is a good idea but relatively expensive, from around pounds 225 per week, even through operators such as Holiday Autos (0990 300400).

When to go

July and August are busy (and hot). The best times to visit are May, June, September and October.

Where to stay

There is a very wide range of accommodation, with simple rooms in a "pansyon" costing from as little as pounds 5. If you prefer to book ahead, several tour operators offer stays in Cappadocia: Accommodation Overseas (0181-977 2984) has seven nights in Goreme half-board in a three-star hotel for pounds 509 per person, including flights and car hire. Savile (0171-625 3001) uses the elegant Esbelli House hotel in Urgup; a one-week visit (three nights Istanbul, four nights Urgup) costs from pounds 699.

Another good tour operator is Simply Turkey (0181-747 1011), which also has a twin-centre holiday.

Waymark (01753 516477) and Explore (01252 344161) have walking holidays in the area.

The Turkish Tourist Office (brochure line 0891 887755) has a useful booklet of tour operators.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all