When I first started this blog, I had no intention of putting Ortahisar in Cappadocia on my bucket list. Despite visiting the Cappadocia region twice, the small town had never appealed to me. Guidebooks did not portray it as a happening place to be and it was rarely featured in blogs or magazine articles. I assumed my readers would not be interested in a place like that and editors wouldn’t even look at a pitch for an article about the town, so it would not benefit me in terms of time or finances.
Then life caught up with me and smacked me in the face. Again and again. With a baseball bat I was sharply reminded that my eagerness to travel was not about time or money. It was about getting to know the cultures, traditions and history of my adopted country. I am here for life now, so the more I know, the more I benefit in the long run.I remembered my bucket list and upon returning to the Cappadocia region, headed straight for Ortahisar with an open mind.
The first noticeable feature of Ortahisar is the rock castle (kalesi) standing dominantly over the town. In many ways, it resembled the same structure that looms over the nearby town of Uchisar but locals are extremely proud of it, calling it…“The Tallest Fairy Chimney in Cappadocia.”
Standing at 78 metres high, I paid my 2 lira entrance fee and attempted to climb the uneven, winding stairway to the top. I didn’t even reach half way. With a fear of heights and put off by the dodgy safety rails that separated me and a long fall, I meekly slid back down the stairway on my bum, thankful that I had avoided the tour buses and huge groups of googly-eyed tourists who would undoubtedly roll about laughing at this strange English woman, shuffling around on her bottom!
Ethnographic and Culture Museum
I then ventured into the Culture museum that also doubles up as a restaurant. Extremely proud of the fact that Queen Sophia of Spain visited them in 2011, I spent a while wandering around the crowded restaurant before finding the entrance to the museum. It covers a small room and has roughly 15 display sections, portraying historical life in Cappadocia. Interesting but it only took 20 minutes to explore.
Apart from that, there are no more notable landmarks worth visiting so what does any worthy traveller do next?
Get to know the locals of course!
Even though Ortahisar is part of a tourism bracket in the Cappadocia region, it has kept a working town appearance including the old bearded man who often trotted by on his worn-out donkey. The nearby and cheap, back-packing town of Goreme can easily be criticised of selling out its roots, but the same cannot be said of Ortahisar.
I had already made friends with the owner of my hotel, The Castle Inn and he told me to keep an eye out for the underground storage areas. They can sometimes be spotted by small funnels sticking out of the ground or otherwise, entrance doors at the base of hills. Both make you feel like you have landed in Teletubbie land but they have a practical purpose. Used to store potatoes and lemon to prolong their freshness, farmers from other regions such as Mersin transported huge amount of produce here before agriculture started leaning more towards modern methods of farming.
House of Memories
Readers, I confess. Sometimes when I travel, I pretend I can’t speak Turkish. I know I shouldn’t do it, but the result is that I am privy to interesting conversations about what Turks really think about tourists who visit their shops. The House of Memories intrigued me partly because of the name and the old-fashioned look of the exterior but sitting outside were four old Turkish men, who debated whether I would…
A: Walk in the shop
B: Actually buy something
The man who bet on A should have made a financial wager because I ventured inside to discover an extremely interesting collection of old household items, farming equipment, intricate jewellery and memorabilia. As much as I was in awe of this collection of antiques, I didn’t buy anything so the man who bet on B, lost out bigtime.
The Onyx Souvenir Shop
Onyx is a popular souvenir in Turkey and this shop was no exception. Thousands of small carvings of animals, chess pieces and so forth, lined the shelves. Looking around, I peered through a glass window of a door at the back of the shop. In the dingy room, filled with dust was a middle-aged man, sitting at a grinding wheel. In my best “Turkish” I asked if I could watch him at work and the answer was a resounding “of course, of course. Just go in.”
Despite the lack of sunlight, this man was diligent as he placed slabs of onyx against the grinding wheel. He was obviously an expert craftsman perhaps learning it from his father. Respect is due as well, to the shop owner and craftsman because these souvenirs are hand-made in Turkey, and not shipped in from some Chinese factory, then sold as the bona-fide thing. I know plenty of souvenir shops around the country who are guilty of this.
Four Places to Go for an Amazing View over Ortahisar
There is of course, the castle if you can stomach the uneven and haphazard walking paths. Also on the edge of the town, is an area famously known as Ortahisar View Point. I liked Ali Baba’s café though. As I sat down on the large wooden terrace to sip my beer while reviewing my photographs, the women carefully threaded beads onto short pieces of string to make bracelets to sell as souvenirs but the best was yet to come.
How delighted was I to discover they also had a wine tasting area and a bar inside a cave! I love quirky things like that! Lastly, as the sun was setting, I headed over to the other side of town to find Tandir Evi, a restaurant highly recommended for their tender and juicy lamb tandir (lamb shank slowly cooked in a steam oven in the ground.)
Set on the side of a valley, it is pure traditional Anatolian, from the décor to the food. Fresh ingredients are grown in their gardens and they also make their own Tandoori bread. The weather was cold so I sat inside but next time, I return to Ortahisar, you can guarantee I will be sitting on their terrace with a magnificent view of the castle and valley.
So lastly, would I recommend Ortahisar for a visit?
If you want to be in the heart of the action, pick Goreme, otherwise Ortahisar is a good base from which to explore the region. A couple staying in the same hotel as me, hired a car to get around, while I opted for locally run tours. If you don’t want to stay overnight, at least visit for the day.
PS: I forgot to say. If you do stay overnight, wake up around 5.30am and walk to the centre of town, anywhere near the castle. From there, you will be witness to an amazing view of the sunrise and famous hot air balloons over Cappadocia floating over the valleys.