I was told by Turkish friends that after Istanbul, Ephesus and Cappadocia were the must see 2 places in Turkey, and six weeks later I was on a small local bus heading for Ushisar.
As we dropped down from the Anatolian plain to the valleys of Cappadocia, I noticed first that most of the houses were built of dressed stone, so different to a lot of modern Turkish construction of concrete, and then the strange pillars of light brown rock.
These soft rocks, created by volcanic activity, left often in the shape of chimneys had been carved out to make homes, churches and even cathedrals for a couple of thousand years. Cappadocia is a world heritage site and since the Turkish government put in an airport at Gulsehir, the region just like Ephesus is a now tourist Mecca.
Coming down from the high Anatolian plain to these valleys is a bit like falling into the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, this is not a completely erroneous analogy as there are cities descending like a warren some forty metres below the surface with a multitude of get outs and defensive positions. These cities mainly created by early Christians to hide from first the Romans and later the turcish peoples from the vast Asian plains.
It was in Goreme, they say, that the virgin Mary was supposed to have seen out her days and the early Christian church might not have survived if it hadn’t flourished here.
The hotel porter in Kayseri had orgainised a room for me in his friends hotel, the Anatolian Pension in Ushisar and after being dropped by the local bus some 2 kilometres away I finally arrived after a long walk at a very attractive hotel made of carved rock with vaulted rooms.
The owner had been the manager first of the ‘Club Med’ in Leysin Switzerland and later in the Club Med in Ushisar which had since been closed down. I had visited Leysin often as I had friends who had worked there, so we had something in common to talk about.
And the big plus he spoke French.!
Ushisar is quieter than the neighbouring Goreme which is full of young tourists often American and Japanese with a Cappadocian balloon trip as part of a mini eastern European package tour.
The place was consequently full of bars, something I hadn’t seen since I was in Istanbul some 4 or 5 weeks before. Ushisar a more middle class and mainly French tourist town is dominated by a strange castle carved out of an unlikely lump of rock sticking incongruously out of a flat plain. There were a few tourist shops with a better class of carpet emporium, and only two restaurants, well difficult to call them restaurants when variations on kebab was the menu. After the rather dour cities like Erzurum and the vast near treeless plains the landscape and buildings here are stunning but the food here is unfortunately as dull here as the rest of the region.
Ushisar had been discovered by the French as a tourist spot and my hotel was nearly full of mainly groups of French women of a certain age and class, wearing much lycra and brightly coloured fleece to go with their decathlon walking boots. From Uschisar one can hike through many of the beautiful valleys with names like ‘love valley’ ‘rose valley’ and ‘pigeon valley’. I started with pigeon valley and it was quiet and surreal with these beautifully hollowed out now empty houses fitting organically in with landscape.
I hired a car and on the advice of the hotel owner Ahmed, who was extremely urbane and precious, I did a little tour of the east of the region with the monastery of Keslir, the part excavated roman village of Sobesos and the valley of Soganli with its many carved stone churches and even a cathedral.
It was so calm and relaxing and with no other tourists one could easily dream yourself back a few thousand years.
I had saved the balloon trip for my last day and frankly had put it off as it required a 4.30 start.
It’s not cheap but you get picked up at the hotel, taken to a restaurant for the Turkish breakfast, where one begins to see the scale of the operation and then off to take off point where one joins the many tourists and the 50 or 60 hot air balloons that take off daily.
It was, I must admit, all worth it as the view over these valleys was beautiful at dawn.