Story and photography by Manos Angelakis
Ayvali Köyü Ürgüp
Tel: (90.384) 3415825
Fax: (90.384) 3417487
Gamirasu, the luxury Cave Hotel we stayed in during our journey through Cappadocia, is located in the town of Ayvali, at the center of the region, and is an excellent starting point for daily explorations of the area. The name of the hotel is an acrostic for the names of the four archangels (Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Suriel).
The hotel is the culmination of the aspirations of İbrahim Baştutan - a successful local businessman who started his career as a young man selling melons - to create a luxury hotel unparalleled by any other property in that region. And he is well on his way to succeeding in his dream.
The property is currently a combination of seven old houses and caves on the side of a cliff, restored and combined. A number of the rooms were actually monk cells, hewn out of soft volcanic rock called "tufa”. Every year, the hotel slowly expands. While we were there, work was being completed on a swimming pool located in the garden, which is planted full of fragrant rose-bushes and colorful flowers.
We stayed at the Hittite Suite, a real cave dating back to 1200 BC, so the original shape of the room was respected during the restoration. The room has a working fireplace – though it is rarely needed in winter, because the tufa is a perfect insulation material which keeps the temperature between 17 - 20 Cº throughout the year. On the other hand, if you like the smell of burning wood as I do, you could ask the manager to have the fire lit, just for the aroma. The suite has a modern bathroom with bathtub Jacuzzi, as well as a separate glass-enclosed shower. All amenities expected of a 5-star hotel are present, including plush bathrobes and slippers, minibar, in-room safe, LC TV with domestic and International channels, free wi-fi internet connection, coffee or tea making facility etc. A side single bed can be used as a couch or for a third person in the room. Two elaborately embroidered Ottoman dress caftans decorate the walls. There is also a balcony with table and chairs a few steps to the side of the entrance that one can have breakfast in the morning or a drink in the evening. And talking about the suite’s entrance, the original round stone door weighing almost a ton is still in its groove next to the doorway, though nowadays a regular wood and glass door is used to control access to the suite.
The Byzantine King Suite is in the heart of the hotel next to a thousand year old Byzantine cave church. It is large, over 1700 square feet (160 sq. meters) and equipped with hand-made furniture and lovely carpets. Lighting creates a romantic atmosphere and large windows open to a balcony with views of the valley and the cave dwellings in the cliff across the way, which are lit at night for effect. A private sauna is in the bathroom that also includes a pool-type Jacuzzi. The amenities of a 5-star hotel are all present.
Actually, all rooms are different in their size, shape, decorations and furnishings.
One caveat: There is no elevator yet in the hotel - one is scheduled to be installed in 2012 to bring guests and their luggage to the reception from the garden entrance. The reception, common room and restaurant are about twenty steep steps above the garden, then the suites and some of the luxury rooms are higher still up the cliff and reachable by other staircases. If you have difficulty with climbing stairs, you could ask for lodging at the garden level that has both cave rooms and some Ottoman-era buildings that are part of the hotel. But currently, to get to the dinning room and common room you still have to go up the stairs.
The hotel’s kitchen is supervised by a master chef that prepares Cappadocian and Ottoman-style dishes. We did not have lunch at the hotel, because we were out visiting the underground cities that dot Cappadocia, the fairy-chimneys that are sprinkled around the landscape and, one very early morning, we went up in a hot-air balloon – the highlight of our journey. In the evening there was a set menu served as six Turkish dishes. It starts with a soup, then two appetizer dishes, salad, main course, dessert and coffee or tea. The chef uses organic produce from local farms. There is a nice wine list that contains both Turkish wines and international bottles, but we opted for drinking yogurt ayran and apple tea.
Breakfast is an elaborate open buffet, with cooked-to-order eggs, a variety of local cheeses – both the white feta cheese and the casar I tasted were of excellent quality, cold cuts, dry fruits and nuts, fresh fruits, freshly squeezed orange juice, sweet sour cherry juice (vishna) as well as other fruit nectars, stewed fruit, a variety of breads, locally made yogurt and highly aromatic honey. Excellent kaymak was always available; it is a double-condensed clotted cream straight from the owner’s cow that can be used instead of butter, or as topping for sweet pastries. Coffee and teas were of course offered, both international and Turkish style. One of the chef’s specialties for the breakfast is melemen, a mix of diced onion, diced long green peppers (Cubanelle peppers would be fine), quartered ripe tomatoes, garlic and hot red pepper flakes cooked together in a cast-iron pan to almost a paste; then the vegetables are transferred to a black-clay baking dish and raw large eggs are added on top and slid under a salamander for the eggs to cook.
There is a professional masseuse (ladies only) available that has to be reserved at check-in with the reception; plus yoga and massage by German partners that are qualified and experienced Doctors of Alternative Medicine.
Both the owner İbrahim Baştutan and the General Manager Hamide Demiral were always present, supervising all activities and making sure that the guests have a great time.
To get there: There are daily flights to and from Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other major cities to either Kayseri or Nevşehir (each has airports, and are about 1 hour 20 minutes each away from Ayvali). Türk Hava Yollari - Turkish Airlines
When you get there, there are ground operators that will arrange for airport pickup and drive to the hotel, multilingual drivers and guides, balloon flights, site entrances etc. Some of the best are:
Peerless Turkey Designers,
Istiklal Cad. No 41/1
Tel: (90.384) 3416970
Fax: (90.384) 3416560
The owner and president of the company Özkan Güleç is an affable young man that speaks 3 languages in addition to Turkish and is extremely knowledgeable about the area’s history and traditions.
Euphrates Cappadocia Tours and Travel Turkey (ASTA member)
Istiklal Cad. 59/9
Tel: (90.384) 3417485
Fax: (90.384) 3417487
The two guides Ersin Görkem and Fatih Ayas that took us around spoke excellent English and were knowledgeable about the area’s attractions. Ersin also played a mean saz, a 4-stringed musical instrument very popular in Anatolia.
Yeni Camii Mah.
Isticlal Cad. No 52
Tel: (90.384) 3415636
Fax: (90.384) 3415226
Istanbul Office Tel: (90.212) 5186570
© June 2011 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.