A luxury cave? A modern 3,000-year old home? These are the paradoxes of the Museum Hotel that make it the only Relais & Châteaux property in all of Turkey and one of the most unique hotels in the world. Its home in Cappadocia is marked by volcanic eruptions and a blanket of thick ash that has been eroding over the millions of years into hoodoo-style towers, fairy chimneys, rainbow valleys and a landscape so surreal it rivals the moon. As if its geological beauty weren’t enough to captivate, these lava formations have been hand-carved into thousands of houses and inhabited by Hittites, Romans, Ottomans, and present-day Anatolians. The Museum Hotel took ten years to meticulously renovate a few dozen of Castle Hill’s ancient cave dwellings into a boutique hotel that transcends space and time.
The owner of the hotel, Ömer Tosun, is an avid antique and art collector and created the property as a living museum. His rare collection is displayed throughout the hotel and in a way that gives guests a sense of how 1000s of years history played out on these very grounds. Built to honor its 1st-century history and incredible landscape, the hotel is centered around Roman arches that look through to the Pigeon Valley, White Valley, Red Valley, and Göreme all with the splendid Mt. Erciyes stretching away in the distance.
We followed the butler (one of 55 highly trained employees to serve the 30-room hotel) through a series of tunnels, descended down a flight of stairs which opened up to our very spacious Tekali Cave Suite. The space was designed to perfection but still embraced its rough-hewn setting and rich past. The headboard and shelves are etched into the wall, just as the Hittite’s would have done, and the sitting area is beside the original grape-stomping basin from the cave’s days as a winery. Each suite is different, some with pools, waterfalls, massage parlors, or free-flowing wine taps (yes, you heard us…a line that runs from the bar to your room. Left sipigot is red, right is white…and both are free. It’s the consolation prize for rooms without a view. Which would you choose?).
We went to the breakfast buffet and couldn’t help but fill multiple plates with Mediterranean delights. Cheeses, fruits, nuts, filo pastries, farm-fresh eggs, home-harvested honey, and vegetables from their on-site garden. We sat on the patio to soak up the sun and the views and ordered Turkish coffee to have our fortune read for the day.
To maximize our time and understanding of the region, the Museum Hotel set us up with their private tour service, Matiana Travel. If it tells you a bit about the quality of their guides, National Geographic calls them when they come to town. Ali and his team created an incredible itinerary for us, taking us to not only to the top sites but hidden gems and local haunts.
The first and absolute must-see stop we made was to the UNESCO-anointed Goreme Open Air Museum. It is a series of 4th-14th-century monasteries cut into the rocks, where as many as 10,000 monks once lived. We explored the caves marveling at the basic soup kitchens to the elaborate church frescoes.
Onward to the Byzantine town of Çavuşin! Wandering the neighborhood was something closer to rock climbing but we balanced on ledges, squeezed through tunnels, and found incredible homes. Believe it or not, up until the 1960s (when many of the caves became protected areas) the majority of Cappadocia lived in caves and 20% still do. Even in the modern age, cave dwelling makes sense as a way to regulate temperature in the area’s extremely hot and cold climate; the interiors stays at around 50-60 degrees no matter the season.
Unlike Cavusin which is out in the open rockface, there are series of cities that lay hidden underground. Ali took us to the Kaymakli City, an ancient subterranean world descending eight floors down with nearly 100 tunnels leading to the various work, living, and sacred spaces. Cappadocia’s arid landscape only yields one crop a year so granaries, wineries, and nearly all food storage was done underground to keep cool and deter thieves. Claustrophobics need not apply; history buffs welcome.
Back at the Museum Hotel, they have their fabulous Lil’a restaurant but for a extra romantic meals, they can arrange dinner in their panoramic spa. We went in for an incredible couples massages, freshened up, and returned to find a candlelit table for two. We started the meal with classic Turkish mezes of baba ganoush and dolmades, followed by a national favorite, Kuzu Tandir lamb, slowly baked in a clay pot until the meat falls off the bone.
We woke up just bright and early to continue our Cappadocia exploration by hot-air balloon with Kapadokya Balloons. Getting the aerial perspective, looking down into the valleys, floating past ancient homes, weaving around fairy chimneys, is an unforgettable way to see the area. Whether you ascend or not, be sure to wake up at sunrise to catch the 100s of colorful balloons pepper the sky.
Our Matiana Travel Mercedes van (did we tell you, it had a champagne bar?) came to pick us up and we were off to our next adventure…Hiking the Love Valley. We scrambled down the steep white walls but once inside, it was a slice of Eden with wild grapes, quince, and apples providing snacks for the day. Each bend in valley revealed a new marvel, from solid waves of lava flow to mushroom-tipped towers. If we’d known the area was THIS gorgeous, we would have stayed another week to trek!
We returned to the Museum Hotel in complete awe of our experience. Location, service, design, history, the Museum Hotel not only exceed our expectations of a cave hotel but a five-star hotel of any kind.
Where to Eat
Ziggy’s Cafe:Grab a seat on one of the four cascading terraces of this stone house turned chic restaurant for a light bite, sunset cocktails or a late lunch of excellent mezzes. Digest with a little shopping at the owner’s atelier, where you can nab her handmade jewelry and accessories.
Muti:Feed your inner gypsy with lunch at what was once a historic inn for Silk Road caravans. Muti serves up creative Turkish cuisine like mezze pastries filled with cinnamon-mint beef and mains of baked lamb with quince and red wine. Bonus points for generous portions.
Cappadocia Home Cooking: Turkish cooking is so good, you’re going to want to replicate at it home. Learn the tricks of the trade from Mama Havva, a little old Anatolian lady who uses ingredients from her family’s garden to teach you to stuff grape leaves, fold manti ravioli and do almost sinfully amazing things with eggplant.
What to Pack
Hiking Shoes: The volcanic ash that makes up Cappadocia can be slippery underfoot, whether you’re seriously hiking or just strolling a historical site. Bring shoes with ankle support and solid treads for safety and comfort.
Turkey is a fairly conservative country, so best to leave those bootie shorts at home. Loose-fitting pants in a quick-dry material will moderate your temp and prevent unwanted attention.
Puffy Jacket:The high, dry plateau brings big temperature swings (so check your exact month’s weather before you pack) and nights are almost always chilly. Pack a light puffy jacket for maximum warmth and minimal space in your suitcase.