Cappadocia, a land of fairy chimneys and underground cities

Enjoy incredible sights in this Turkish tourist paradise. (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 August 2017

Cappadocia, a land of fairy chimneys and underground cities

CAPPADOCIA: The shopping bazaars of Istanbul, turquoise beaches of Antalya and fascinating thermal waters of Pamukkale make Turkey a true tourist paradise.
Cappadocia, in the Central Anatolia Region of Turkey, is another tourist draw — albeit one that is lesser known.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cappadocia is located among volcanic mountains. Several years of volcanic eruptions — resulting volcanic ash, floods and strong winds — have created unique, porous rock formations called fairy chimneys. These geological formations were used by fleeing refugees as hideouts, monasteries and to house entire cities. If you are a history aficionado, these rock formations are sure to have you captivated.
How to get there: Only an hour’s flight away from Istanbul, the easiest way to get to Cappadocia is to take a direct flight from Istanbul Atatürk Airport to the nearest airport in Kayseri and make the hour’s journey to Cappadocia by car. To get a true experience of the Byzantine era (albeit with some luxuries), check in to one of the many cave hotels in Cappadocia. Restored to some degree, these caves were once used as retreats by monks and now serve as hotels for tourists, with modern amenities like hot tubs and Roman Baths — an experience that is totally worth it!
Things to do: The next morning, check off one more item on your travel bucket list as you head out to your early-morning hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia’s valleys. As the sun rises, be prepared to be stunned by a valley of fairy chimneys and a sky filled with color as other hot air balloons float through the air. After spending a luxurious morning savoring the sights of Cappadocia, head back to your hotel for a lavish Turkish breakfast that will keep you fueled up for the day ahead.
Apart from the traditional Turkish spread, try Cappadocia’s testi kebap — meat sealed in dough and cooked in a clay pot. An entertaining show is made out of breaking down the pot and serving its tender contents.
With intricate designs and rich colors, the silk carpets of Kayseri are some of the best in the world. Visit a carpet-making factory to watch the local women spin beautiful silk carpets and perhaps buy some to take home. You can also visit the renowned Chez Galip pottery factory and see how traditional Turkish ceramics are made.
Places to visit: Visit the Derinkuyu underground city in the province of Nevşehir, making your way in and out of secret tunnels and passageways while you try to decipher Greek inscriptions on the walls. While there, you can try to fathom the daily life of the nearly 20,000 people who used to reside in the Derinkuyu underground city and the neighboring underground city of Kaymakli.
The Göreme Open Air Museum is an archaeological delight. You can wander around for hours and marvel at 11th century frescos, paintings, communal eating areas and monasteries.
To experience the wonders of nature, take a trek through the Rose Valley, named after the red and pink hues of its rock formations, or the Pigeon Valley, named after its rock formations that look like bird houses, in Göreme.
To revive your inner child, visit the Devrent Valley and try to spot the hidden creatures in the rock formations. If you look closely, you can see horses, camels and whatever else your imagination can cook up.
A three or four-day trip should suffice to see everything in the Nevşehir, Ürgüp, Göreme, Uçhisar and Ihlara areas of Cappadocia — pack a camera for the incredible sights and enjoy your trip!

The Athenaeum: a warm welcome in the heart of London

The historic hotel is no longer all about the glitz — and it’s all the better for it. (Supplied)
Updated 18 October 2019

The Athenaeum: a warm welcome in the heart of London

LONDON: One of the best things about visiting London is learning about the remarkable stories associated with many of its buildings and neighborhoods.

Take The Athenaeum Hotel and Residences. Its address — 116 Piccadilly — used to be known as Hope House, the swanky private residence of British MP Henry Hope, built in 1850. The interiors were so extravagant that they reportedly caught the attention of the author Charles Dickens.

Going into the Victorian era, Hope House was sold to the Junior Athenaeum Club, a gentlemen’s club open to the crème de la crème of London’s society, particularly those in science, art and literature.

The building became The Athenaeum in 1973, and the five-star hotel has been family-run since the 1990s.

History will tell you that The Athenaeum used to be all about glitz and glamour; exuding a grandiose air fit for its clientele of Hollywood celebrities and global politicians. In fact, film director Steven Spielberg once installed an editing suite in the residences, where he worked on “Close Encounters,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T.”

In recent times, the property has been given an overhaul and is now more understated. It’s gone from a ritzy hotel to a boutique one — cozier, friendlier and certainly a breath of fresh air in Mayfair, an area that’s full of big brand accommodation.

Welcoming is the word that comes to mind when describing our recent visit. From the greeting at the entrance (look up Jim Gardner Burns, who has been a doorman at The Athenaeum for 26 years) to the friendly staff at reception, check-in was a breeze — and we were upgraded to a spacious suite, overlooking Mayfair. The open-plan room featured a double bed with living room area with sofa and TV. Meanwhile, the classic marble bathroom feels just as big, with probably the largest walk-in shower we have ever seen. No exaggeration, it could easily fit more than six people.

What stands out about the room is how accessible everything is. Lights can be controlled from the bedside tables, and all the functions actually work properly (how many times have you fiddled with the master switch in a room only for it not to switch off all of the lights?). One feature that could prove split opinion —  you’ll absolutely love it or loathe it — is that the majority of the walls are covered in mirrors. It’s great for lighting, but it also means saying hello to reflections of yourself everywhere.

Outside of the room, there are several highlights too. The hotel’s spa is comfortable and well-appointed. It’s also home to a decent-sized gym.

When it comes to dining, a stop at the property’s signature Galvin at The Athenaeum is a must. Created by chef-restaurateurs Chris and Jeff Galvin — who also own the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows at the London Hilton on Park Lane — it marks the first time the brothers have moved away from their trademark French-inspired menus to create modern takes on British classics. Sadly, we were short on time and didn’t visit restaurant for lunch or dinner, but the breakfast was enjoyable, combining buffet staples with an impressive à la carte menu.

One area The Athenaeum’s staff seem to take huge pride in is The View, a lounge that occupies the entire top floor of the hotel, and offers panoramic views of London’s cityscape. The space offers books, games and snacks, and is great should you need to do some work. The only downside is that the balcony, which overlooks the great views, is closed as a security precaution when we visit. And that’s a real shame, as the view would no doubt be 10 times better without the obstruction of the glass doors.

All in all, this property is definitely worth considering, providing strong competition in a saturated area of London. And with it being a short walk away from landmarks including Knightsbridge and Buckingham Palace, you’ll save a lot of time on transport. Hello, West End.

Top tip: Book via the official website to take advantage of a number of deals, including Gourmet Getaway — a five-course tasting menu, plus overnight stay with breakfast — as well as discounts on additional nights or complimentary night packages.