Mark Nicholls savours traditional cuisine amid the discreet luxury of the Argos in Cappadocia hotel in Central Turkey
THE VIEW from the terrace is inspiring; of stunning conical rock formations along an ancient valley, shaped by wind and water over hundreds of thousands of years. The Argos in Cappadocia hotel sits above this, on the edge of the village of Uçhisar, and created out of the ruins of a network of centuries-old cave homes and an historic monastery in this fascinating part of central Turkey. The rooms, revived and refurbished to luxurious standards and spread across the hillside, retain the integral character of the architecture for a hotel that intriguingly describes itself as ‘an ancient village with a reception desk’.
Dining here is a delight ,with the finest Turkish and international cuisine served against a backdrop of twinkling lights as night falls over the valley. The Seki restaurant, with dining indoors or al fresco, also offers an extensive wine menu with an international selection complemented by the hotel’s own award-winning labels produced from vines a few miles away. As you eat, peer over the edge and enjoy the hotel garden with herbs, vegetables and fruit trees as it tumbles away on terraces below. In season, you can wander down and pick fresh cherries or apricots straight from the tree.
With a starter of lamb meat wrapped in grape leaves and grilled lamb fillet with vegetable tartar, and red cabbage puree and pesto sauce, we also sneaked a taste of the Seki’s Kirci Pasta and the Kayseri Manti (chickpea yogurt and butter). For our main course, we chose the Saslik Kebab of marinated beef, pita bread, tomato sauce and yoghurt, and the beef fillet with fenugreek and wild mushrooms, accompanied by the Turasan Syrah 2013; deep, red and fulfilling – a lovely wine with our meal. And for dessert, the mastic rice pudding with cherry sorbet and the Turkish coffee hot chocolate cake with lemon and mint sorbet proved irresistible.
The Argos has 51 rooms and suites with original features such as the rough-hewn ceilings and archways. The accommodation is in several styles and ranges from standard rooms to Splendid Suites, which are set over two storeys and have their own private pools. What distinguishes them is the way they are situated in six restored ‘mansions’ connected by underground tunnels in a design that pays tribute to the region’s architecture and heritage. With secluded courtyards, each room is individually designed with Turkish carpets, artefacts, candles and decorative objects set in wall niches.
Offering Turkish hospitality and personalised service, there are also gardens and terraces with panoramic views from the foothills of Uçhisar Fortress to Güvercinlik Valley and Mount Erciyes in the distance. Neat footpaths lead to the hotel lounge and the Seki Restaurant, while within the cool interior is a wine cellar holding the extensive collection of global and local vintages, including the hotel’s Kalecik Karasi and Syrah wines.
The Argos has been voted Best Small Hotel in Turkey
The hotel is open all-year round, with winter offering a different, romantic perspective. It has won an array of awards, including the Best Small Hotel in Turkey in the International Hotel Awards 2016-17, while in the World Luxury Hotel Awards 2015 it was named ‘Europe’s Best Scenic Environment’.
All round the hotel lies the Cappadocian landscape of conical rock formations and fairy chimneys which stand dominant, while below ground are the amazing subterranean cities. Kaymakli is one of at least 37 underground settlements, dug out of rock formed of sandy volcanic ash, pumice and lava, where thousands of people once lived and burrowed eight storeys below ground. With living and eating areas, churches, wineries and narrow passages that were easily defendable against intruders, some of the underground refuges date from 2000BC.
A few miles away, one of the major visitor sites in Cappadocia is the Goreme Open Air Museum, where a nunnery, monastery and numerous 4th century churches – many with colourful and well-preserved wall paintings telling the story of Christ – are carved out of the rock face. From there, we paused for lunch in the new town of Goreme nearby at the GRM GouRMet restaurant. I chose the ‘Potter Kebab’ – cooked in earthenware sealed pots with veal, pearl onion, green pepper, tomatoes and garlic, where the waiter chips the top off for you to eat the contents with bread and rice. Other dishes included Ev Makarnasi of homemade noodles with melted cheese, Haydari (yogurt, garlic and dried mint), and Sebze Musakka (vegetable musakka with layers or egg plants, potatoes, tomatoes, caramelised onion and Turkish kasari cheese.
Cappadocia is arguably Turkey’s most popular destination outside of Istanbul with its mysterious expanse of ravines, canyons, mountains and valleys formed by millions of years of soft volcanic lava and ash. The so-called fairy chimneys are a symbol of Cappadocia, where the elements have shaped the rock formations into tall pillars, leaving flat slabs incongruously balanced on top of them like little stone caps.
A true treat is to view this terrain from above, from the basket of a hot-air balloon. Taking off just after dawn, we are one of 60 balloons floating slowly over the wondrous terrain. At times we reach an altitude of 250 metres before dipping close to ground level to hover into small gullies for close-up views of cave homes or pigeonholes carved into the walls. We float in the direction of Uçhisar, where its castle, hewn out of the volcanic rock, rises as a monolithic watchtower, while below it, an ancient village of cave houses tumbles down the hillside. It is within this historic community that the revived rooms that now form the Argos in Cappadocia sit, a hotel which truly lets you immerse yourself in this magical landscape.
Flights: Daily flights from Istanbul to the airports of Nevsehir (25-minute drive) and Kayseri (one-hour drive)