Muti is an elegant gourmet restaurant tucked away behind the fruit and nut shops on Ürgüp's central plaza, hidden like a well-kept secret. The entrance may not be easy to spot at first, but once you have walked through the archway and into the courtyard of the restored 250-year-old caravanserai, be prepared to be more than pleasantly surprised. A distinctive pink sign invites guests into Muti by prokopia (the previous restaurant here was Prokopia). Despite being located on Ürgüp’s main square, this concealed gem can be hard to find. Run by a brother and sister, Muhittin and Gülçin Ülkü, the restaurant was renovated in 2012, with a new contemporary charm infused into a 250-year-old caravanserai. The elegant sophistication of the interior design equals that of the food. Ottoman and Turkish cuisine, regional, and international dishes blend into a variety of elaborate plates on Muti’s menu. Diners can choose from a sensational range of starters, pick a salad, pasta, or meat dish, or try a Turkish or Armenian specials such as karnıyarık (stuffed eggplant with chopped meat and tomato sauce) and topik (chickpea paste with an onion, currants, cumin, and tahini filling).
Caravanserais have been used since the 10th century. Trade across Turkey in medieval Seljuk times was dependent on camel trains (kervan, anglicized as caravan), which stopped by night in inns known as kervansaray or caravanserai, literally “caravan palaces”. These buildings provided accommodation and other amenities for the merchants and stabling for their animals. Caravanseraies were first seen in Central Asia during the times of Caravans, Ghaznavids and the Great Seljuk State. They were building fortresses called “Ribat”. These buildings, first constructed as small buildings for military uses were later developed and changed into larger buildings and were used for both religious purposes and as inns for travelers. This is a typical caravanserai which is situated on the Aksaray Kayseri highway. It has two parts, one open and one covered. The open part was built by Aleattin Keykubat in 1231 and the covered part was built by Giyasedddin Keyusrev in 1239. This is the third largest and one of the last caravanserais built in Anatolia. Stones cut from the volcanic rock were used in the construction of the caravanserais in the region of Cappadocia.
Nar Gölü (Nar Lake or Lake Pomegranate) is a crater lake that was formed when a volcano blew its top some time in the not too distant geological past. The hot sulfurous water, which still bubbles up from somewhere below the surface, is supposed to be good for curing all kinds of skin problems. It is about 36 km southeast of Aksaray in Cappadocia. It is about 12 km northwest of Nazianzos, best known as the seat of fourth-century bishop Gregory of Nazianzos, one of the Cappadocian Fathers. Walking around on the burnt-looking soil of the crater sides you may notice that it has become the home of a wide variety of birds, and it is also possible to come across the shiny jet black obsidian that was prized by Paleolithic and Neolithic people for making tools and weapons that were sharper than surgical steel. Hot water surging out from the south and north shores of the lake is supposed to be useful in treating rheumatism and many people from neighbouring villages come here for a cure. The hills around the lake are literally filled with innumerable churches. For those who want to bathe in these healing waters, a new hotel, just down the entrance road, offers a small pool, you can pay for just half an hour’s swim in the hot water before continuing on your way.
This may be one of the most unique restaurants I have ever reviewed. In the town of Belisirma, in the Ihlara Valley once called Peristrema, are several restaurants with dining rooms suspended only about a foot above the small Melendiz Suyu River which created the valley/gorge. The volcanic Cappadocian landscape holds about 60 Byzantine churches, chapels, monasteries and hermits’ caves dating from the 11th to 13th centuries. It lies about 85 miles from Ürgüp where we were staying. Most of the churches are located between Ihlara Village and Belisırma but be warned, there are 360 steps down and back up to see them, we decided to just have lunch. Ihlara village lies at the southern end if the valley, while Selime is at the northern end, with Beliserma roughly in the middle. Even though this area is not as large as the city center of Güzelyurt or town of Ihlara, Greeks intensively settled in this village.
We decided to visit Topdeck restaurant in Göreme, one of the top-rated restaurants in Cappadocia. Topdeck Cave is a family-run restaurant where the owner and chef, Mustafa prepares four daily local main dishes, 1 or 2 types of soups, various appetizers (meze) from fresh ingredients from local farmers. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of the family house, in a cave which used to be a stable. It has only 10 tables, offering 6 normal tables and 4 floor tables with cushion seats. During the summer months (April to October), an early reservation booking is recommended. They are open 6-11 PM Monday through Saturday, closed on Sundays. Mustafa Ciftçi runs Turkish cooking classes (reservation-only) from his family home and restaurant. All the chopping and sweating over the stove is worth it for the lunch afterwards when you get to eat your creations.
We decided to visit the “farmers market” in Nevşehir, Cappadocia. This was a really large market. Usually the market is one long aisle, here it was at least 5×5 aisles, coverering a small city block. Farmers markets are called Pazar in Turkish. More and more Turks seek out organic and sustainably farmed foods for the sake of their family’s health and the health of the planet. Farmers markets in Cappadocia include: Saturdays in Ürgüp, Sundays and Mondays in Nevşehir, Wednesdays in Göreme, Fridays in Avanos. The term “farmers market” in Turkey assumes a new level of interest, with live chicks, goslings and rabbits in addition to spices and exotic fruits and vegetables. Street markets in Turkey are one of the greatest pleasures and attractions for locals and for tourists, with their bright colors and delicious mingled scents. The herb and spices stalls always attract me by the wonderful glowing rich colors of paprika, cumin, saffron, cloves, mustard seeds, fenugreek, cardamom and ginger and their heady, enticing fragrances. Strings of dried vegetables and innumerable fresh fruits and vegetables are on artistic displays.
We traveled two hours (80 Kilometers) from Ürugüp to reach the Red Church. Kızıl Kilise (Red Church), built in the 7th century, it is the only church from the 7th century built in Cappadocia still standing. It stands at 1700 meters at the bottom of a large basin, facing the mountains of Melendiz which are covered in snow in the winter, and at the edge of an ancient pilgrimage route to Jerusalem. It is considered to be built in honor of Saint Gregory of Nazianze, one of the three fathers of the Church of Cappadocia, and is named after the color of the volcanic stone it is constructed of. Güzelyurt, in central Turkey, is 35 miles from Nevsehir and a short bus ride from Aksaray. It's near the Peristrema Valley, famous for its seven-mile hike through a lush valley of poplar groves, eagles, vultures, and early Christian churches. Güzelyurt means “beautiful land.” It's best known in Turkey as the town where historic enemies, Greeks, Turks, Kurds, and Bulgarians, live in peace. The town is a harmony of cultures, history, architecture, and religions. Walk down streets that residents from 3,000 years ago might recognize, past homes carved into the rocks, enjoying friendly greetings of merhaba (hello). The “Red Church” lies in a beautiful alpine meadow, a marvelous ancient anomaly in a pristine contemporary environment.
Cappadocia is known around the world as one of the best places to fly with hot air balloons. The spectacular surrealistic landscapes combined with excellent flying conditions allow the balloons to gently drift over and between fairy chimneys, pigeon houses hewn into the unique rock formations, orchards and vineyards – through impressive valleys, each with distinctive rock formations, colors and features – and then float up over rippled ravines for breathtaking views over the region. The way the hot air balloons work is that the lift is greatest in cold or cool air. Hence, the operators pick you up between 5-6 AM, along with 20 companions for your adventure. There are also private balloon rides, albeit for a higher price. They inflate the balloon and all 20 of you pile into the straw basket. We chose a ride that follows the Rose valley. As the ride progressed, we were able to witness the sunrise, even though it was cloudy in Cappadocia, a beautiful and amazing sight.
We decided to go out to dinner nearby, at the Argos hotel. Argos in Cappadocia bills itself as “an ancient village with a reception desk.” That’s partly true. It occupies a medieval monastery that was carved into the soft volcanic land, and some of the structures are indeed ancient, such as the 2,000-year-old chapel that’s now used as a concert hall and event space. But some are not, and everything is more luxurious than when the original inhabitants cave-dwelt on these hills. The main lounge and dining room have a more contemporary farmhouse feel and staggering views of the fantastically sculpted Pigeon Valley below, arguably the best in the area. The modern-Turkish food is fabulous too, and the deep wine list spotlights the surprisingly good wines produced in the region, including some from the hotel’s own vineyards (and stored in a centuries-old cellar that’s as atmospheric as anywhere else in the place).
After a morning of traipsing through the Byzantine open air museum, we found ourselves hungry and went over the hill to Urgup in Cappadocia for lunch. Han Çiragan in the centre of Urgup is set in a caravanserai built around 250 years ago making it the oldest restaurant in Urgup. The restaurant has two levels of seating. The lower level, which includes a friendly bar, has outdoor seating under a beautiful shady vine lattice as well as indoor seating. The upper level is open to the sky. One of the great attractions of this restaurant is the Tandoor oven, located in the courtyard. They also have an excellent wine shop attached to the restaurant.