Travel Black Book: CEO Series

Travel Black Book: Stay in a cave in Cappadocia

The Turkish region is home to underground cities that served as homes and refuge

WHO: Australian Mr Karl Hamann, 48, Chief Executive of QBE Insurance Singapore.

Favourite destination: Cappadocia, Turkey. When travelling to Turkey, Cappadocia is a must-visit. The landscapes are truly remarkable, with multi-coloured layers of rock, towering geological formations and vast cave systems which honeycomb the hills and valleys. It is unlike anywhere else in the world.

SEE

Cappadocia is best known for the caves and underground cities in the region. For more than 1,500 years, the local population lived in the caves and sought shelter from invaders in the subterranean networks which were carved into the region's soft volcanic rock.

There are thought to be dozens of underground cities across the region, and the intricate network of tunnels and caves contained everything from wine and oil presses to storage rooms and chapels.

Some cities, such as Derinkuyu, which was fully formed in the Byzantine era, extend up to 60m underground and were large enough to house as many as 20,000 people with their food and livestock.

Visitors can tour two of them while visiting the region. Derinkuyu is the deepest and Kaymakli is the widest.

Be sure to visit the Goreme Open-Air Museum (www.goreme.com/goreme-open-air-museum.php), a Unesco World Heritage site that is not a traditional museum.​

  • WHO: Australian Mr Karl Hamann, 48, Chief Executive of QBE Insurance Singapore. PHOTO: COURTESY OF KARL HAMANN

  • GETTING THERE

  • Turkish Airlines offers daily flights to Istanbul and Singapore Airlines flies directly to the city five times a week. From there, take a roughly 11/2-hour flight with either Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airlines or AtlasGlobal to Cappadocia. They fly more than 12 times a day.

  • TIPS

    • Spend at least a week in Istanbul, followed by at least three days in Cappadocia.

    • The best way to visit the sites is by taxi, which can be arranged by the hotel. You can also hire a local guide and driver through a local tour company. Most sites cover a large area, so wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk.

    • Turkey may not be as safe as Singapore, but very few places are. Be aware of your surroundings and do not venture too far from your base in the evening.

    • Travel insurance is essential. It gives you peace of mind and is a valuable resource to tap should the need arise.

    • Be careful when shopping, especially when buying rugs. Carpet vendors are notorious for claiming they are selling authentic rugs when they are not.

    • The Turkish people are nice and accommodating. It is easy to be understood in Turkey when you speak English, but it is worth arming yourself with some phrases in Turkish.

The ancient town was carved into the cliffs and visitors will explore dozens of caves where whole families and their livestock used to live, as well as the 10th-, 11th-and 12th-century churches which were sculpted into the rock and decorated with religious frescoes and figures.

The museum gives an insight into the architecture and way of life of this area and I loved how the landscape and history came together in one place.

EAT

My family eats quite simply, so we often enjoyed food from street vendors instead of restaurants. We would sit at a roadside cafe or buy from food carts around the city.

Try typical Turkish food, such as doner kebabs and manti - boiled or steamed dumplings filled with spiced meat, usually lamb or ground beef, and served with sumac, a deep-red Middle Eastern spice, and a garlic-yogurt sauce.

My family also enjoyed a variety of bread called simit, one of the most traditional street foods of Turkey. Available at stalls throughout the city, the circular, sesame-encrusted bread looks like a bagel or pretzel and costs less than 1 lira (40 Singapore cents) a piece.

My sons especially liked kozde misir, cobs of corn which are steamed, then grilled over charcoal and served with a sprinkling of salt, pepper and spices. They make for delicious snacks on the go and costabout 1.5 lira each.

Our favourite treat was authentic Turkish Delight. Coming from Australia, where the rose-flavoured candy is normally coated in chocolate, the true Turkish Delight was very different to what we are used to. It typically came in a rose flavour, but there were varieties with chopped dates, pistachios and hazelnuts or walnuts as well as flavours such as Bergamot and lemon.

The soft, jelly-like and sticky sweet was served in cubes coated with powdered sugar. There are many stalls selling Turkish Delight all around the country and one can expect to pay between 15 and 50 lira a kilogram, depending on the flavour.

PLAY

The highlight of our trip was a hot-air balloon tour we had taken over Cappadocia's Rose Valley at dawn.

From our vantage point, we were able to take in the unforgettable, otherworldly landscape with its multi-coloured layers, spires and "fairy chimneys" - tall, thin columns of stone that stick out from the ground at varying heights, some over 10 storeys tall.

Soaring in the balloon, we followed a slow graceful path along the valley, with our guide lowering the balloon so that we were barely clearing the tree tops in some places.

We have gone on hot-air balloons before, back home in Hunter Valley near Sydney, but the experience in Turkey was one of a kind.

We took our tour with Butterfly Balloons (www.butterflyballoons.com/en/home).It cost about €140 (S$225) a person for an hour-long flight and included champagne and juice at the end.

SHOP

Cappadocia is not much of a destination for shopping, though the region's main towns of Goreme, Urgup and Uchisar have stores and markets selling handmade artefacts, spices, food items and Turkish souvenirs.

For the best shopping experience, go to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, which has hundreds of stalls selling jewellery, ceramics, Turkish bath towels, shoes, spices and rugs.

STAY

We were lucky enough to stay in a cave hotel, Kelebek Special Cave Hotel (www.kelebekhotel.com/en). Rooms start at €55 a night.

Located in the hills above Goreme, the hotel has 47 rooms, many of which are carved into the surrounding rock.

It was our first time sleeping in a cave and we had a room with a fireplace and a private balcony that offered views over Goreme village and the valleys and mountains beyond. If you wake up early enough, you can catch the hot-air balloons rising across the valley at dawn.

The organic breakfast at the hotel was also great, with a full spread of different Turkish delicacies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 22, 2017, with the headline 'Stay in a cave in Cappadocia'. Print Edition | Subscribe