Cave Dwelling in Cappadocia

By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  | 9/03/2003

CAPPADOCIA, Turkey - When I arrived around dawn at the bus station, after a long, sleepless trip from Istanbul, I had little strength to fuss over a hotel. I just wanted a bed, a place to rest my head, where I could lie horizontal for a few uninterrupted hours.

The night before, I had read about a few pensions in my guidebook. They seemed just right - not too expensive and funky - and they were caves.

That's right: I wanted to stay in a cave. It's the thing to do in Cappadocia, a lush valley in central Turkey shaped by a volcanic eruption 10 million years ago. So I circled a few recommended caves. And in the morning, I would set off to what seemed to be the most appealing one.

Shortly after arriving, I hoisted my heavy backpack onto an old van and left the station with a few tourists to find a place called the "Tuna Caves Pension."
We never made it there.

On the way, we stopped at another hotel, which the driver and other tourists described as cozier than the cave I had dog-eared.

It didn't take more than a quick glance to realize it wasn't quite the funky habitation I had in mind: It was dank, musty, and definitely uninviting. As groggy as I felt, I started thinking I would rather sleep on another bus than in some bat-infested, moldy cave.

After inspecting the craggy interior of one room, I met a couple who had spent the previous night at a newly built hotel a few miles away, on a hill overlooking the valley. They raved about it. The views, they said, were to die for; the food was unparalleled. It was a five-star hotel, they said, and the best part was the price. Courtesy of the War on Terror, and of the recent routing of Saddam Hussein's military in Iraq, the place was empty. And the price had plummeted to just $45 a night.

That last part really got my attention.

So I climbed back into the van and told the driver I had changed my mind. I wanted to go to this place on the hill, in Uchisar, called the Museum Hotel.

To say the least, I don't typically stay in five-star hotels. I'm the kind of guy who prefers to go camping or stay in a hostel than pay to sleep in some overpriced inn. But I have to say, without a doubt, this was the best decision I had made throughout my 10 days in Turkey. I knew that the moment I arrived.

If anything, the couple had underplayed the beauty. In the distance, from the top of the hill, I could see the entire valley, the mahogany-colored canyons, the bizarrely goopy rock formations, the massive volcano at the edge of the horizon. The air was even different: A cool breeze banished the heat stifling much of the valley.

It was as if I had suddenly walked into another universe. After an all-night bus trip squirming in an uncomfortable seat, it was as though I had become royalty, for just $45.

I mentioned my hunger and the concierge had my dirty, sweat-stained backpack taken to my room. A bellhop escorted me to the patio, which overlooked all the grandeur of Cappadocia. Then they prepared to feed me.

In minutes, a legion of traditionally dressed waiters and waitresses set a table, poured me apple tea, and served a meal of chicken and rice. For someone used to scrubbing his own dishes, it took some time to get used to the staff hovering over me as I ate, replacing my fork between bites. It didn't take too much time, however, and I feel comfortable saying it was one of the best lunches I've ever had.

Still, it was nothing compared with breakfast and dinner. Breakfast included a buffet of fresh juices, recently harvested olives, a variety of feta cheeses, fruits, pastries, and just about anything I could have desired. Dinner included fresh salads; crusty, feta-filled hors d'oeuvres; large, meticulously prepared entrees; and desserts so good they defy adjectives.

Yet the part that made it worth it was the room.

A cave built into the side of a hill,
my room didn't have any right angles. But it wasn't anything like the cave I had seen earlier. It had satellite TV, a king-sized bed with silk-smooth sheets, and a marble bath with Jacuzzi. There were also elegant paintings and other pricey pieces of art on the walls (thus giving the hotel its name), irregularly shaped windows that looked out on the valley, and an untold number of small perks - everything from a comfy robe and soft slippers to Turkish carpets lining the floor to a bottle of wine.

In short, and this only slightly runs the risk of exaggeration, it seemed the way one might imagine heaven. And I say that without having entered the pool, which was under construction when I visited in June.

Drifting off to sleep that night, I curled up in the smooth sheets and my head lay gently on the feathery pillow. I was as far away from the previous night's bus as I could be, and the big bed alone was enough for me to consider staying there for the rest of my trip. And then I started harboring visions of moving in, perhaps taking a job as a bellhop or a window cleaner. And if they let me, I might stay there for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, that never panned out.

Back home in Boston, back at the job and in my one-bedroom apartment scrubbing dishes and doing my own laundry, I often think about that bed, and the view, and all the meals. It was good to be the king, at least for a while.
David Abel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @davabel.

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