When traveling to Cappadocia, expect to be left speechless at times. Its beauty is overwhelming, the number of other tourists and tourist traps can be as well. But the good news is, Cappadocia is stretched-out, and most people go straight from their tour bus to the Göreme Open Air Museum. This leaves plenty of room for you to discover Cappadocia at your own pace and without being suffocated when queuing in line for the next ‘attraction.’ You’ll be happy to learn we’ve done the legwork for you. Tested, visited in person, and approved as a genuine slow travel experience! We had already covered Central Cappadocia in a previous blog, this time we’ll take you on a trip outside of the National Park perimeter to the hidden gems of Cappadocia.
Charming Mustafapaşa and St.-Nicholas Church
Mustafapaşa lies a short drive away from Ürgüp. It is a charming little village with a rich, Greek past. The remains are still visible and very much incorporated into today’s village. Mustafapaşa is not touristy. Not that they haven’t seen tourists yet, far from it, but you’ll be challenged to find the sites as they haven’t put much effort into road signs. If you want to visit the Greek church, head to the town square to find it. Unlike many other places in Turkey, the church closes during lunch hours, so bear that in mind if you are planning your trip.
Also in Mustafapaşa, just past the village center, and after the arched bridge, is St.-Nicholas Monastery. It has been recently renovated and is worth a visit if you are in the area. The Monastery combines a well-preserved fairy chimney with a classically arched courtyard and a cemetery surrounded by utter silence. Visiting almost felt like a mystical experience, but then again, this seems to be the case quite often when wandering around Cappadocia.
Keşlik Manastırı in Cemil Köyü
What a gem this turned out to be! This monastery lies on the lands of an old lady. She spends her days there growing vegetables in the old monastery gardens and serving Turkish tea to whomever visits. The place is her pride and joy, and despite the fact that she doesn’t speak any other language than Turkish, she’ll go out of her way to show you what else the region has to offer using a book full of pictures. Keşlik Manastırı has it all: gorgeous frescoes, churches, and chapels, a winery that still has grapevines outside and plenty of fairy chimneys and caves to discover. All this, knowing this is a serious chance you’ll have it all to yourself!
Ancient Sobesos in Şahinefendi
Sobesos might not be a place you’d make individual travel plans for, but it is worth to stop there when on the way from Mustafapaşa to Soğanlı. The site is not particularly impressive, and the old church has been given a roof over its ruins to preserve the mosaics, which makes it look less attractive from a distance. But to see those mosaic floors from up close…! That alone is worth a stop. You will also get to see the remains of a hammam and some more ruins, but the detailed mosaic floors were the crown jewel of this stop where, once again, we were the only ones visiting.
The valley and the churches of Soğanlı
Taking a hike in Soğanlı valley feels like time traveling. Up until 2011, people still lived in the cave houses of this valley. They only left because they were forced to after the government decided it was no longer safe to occupy these dwellings due to the massive erosion. It has turned Soğanlı into an intriguing ghost village with numerous cave churches to discover along the way. Make sure to turn this visit into a half a day trip if you want to get a good feeling about what this place represents.
Your visit to Soğanlı comes with a bonus. In Turkey, one is never short of places to eat or drink. But some places are more special than others. This is the case for the Hidden Apple Garden in Soğanlı. You’ll find it just before the little bridge that serves as an entrance to the village. You can’t see anything from the garden or the restaurant from the street, except the sign, hence the name :-). But trust us, going down those steps will take you to a lush green garden an oasis of hospitality. The perfect place to relax and process the images and impressions of Cappadocia off the beaten path.
Discovering these hidden gems in Cappadocia makes a trip so rewarding. And while many people consider choosing an accommodation merely consists of having a clean bed to sleep in, we don’t agree. We believe your place to stay is just as much a part of your travel experience as your destination is. And in Cappadocia, this has once again proven to be the case. Not only did we spend the night in an authentic cave room with a view over Pigeon Valley and the floating hot air balloons, we also were fortunate enough to meet the owner of Taka Ev, who handed us the places to visit on a silver plate. As a local, he knows what to avoid en where to go. It is that kind of insider tips that truly lifts your travels to the next level. Well, and reading this blog of course. 🙂
Would you like to read what visitors have to say before you go? Read these reviews of Cappadocia to get an even better picture. If you are looking for a reliable guide for the area, we can recommend Captivating Cappadocia: The Comprehensive Guidebook to the Heart of Turkey. It is written by a local resident who knows the area inside out and available as a Kindle edition for more convenience. For those wanting to get a better insight into the wall paintings in Cappadocia’s churches the book Painting in Cappadocia: A Guide to the Sites and Byzantine Church Decoration. The book serves as a travel guide to the most important painted churches featuring numerous color illustrations, plans, and maps.
There is no shortage of charming places to stay in Cappadocia, but we can’t recommend Taka Ev highly enough. As an alternative, for those preferring a vacation rental Anitya Cave House in Ürgüp has charm in abundance.
The nearest airport is Kayseri, which has easy connections with Istanbul airports if required. You’ll find cheap flight options here. Or you can use the search widget on the side to easily find the cheapest and best flights available.