A surprisingly loud call to prayer woke me at 5:30 on my first morning in Cappadocia, reminding me that the farther east I travel from Istanbul, the more exotic Turkey seems.
The solemnity of the sound contrasted sharply with our experience the night before on the terrace of the new House Hotel Cappadocia in Ortahisar, where we sat around a roaring fire pit drinking wine and jovially chatting with Antony Doucet, the French brand director for the House Hotel collection, which comprises five hotels. The overall vibe, despite the otherworldly landscape, was distinctly more Europe than Middle East.
"Ninety-five percent of Turkey is in Asia, but we identify as Europeans," our guide had told us earlier in the day, and while there is no way of knowing what percentage of locals feel that way, it was a sentiment we heard echoed numerous times during our visit, which was arranged by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office.
This blend of cultures, encapsulated perfectly by the chic-meets-Byzantine decor of the hotel, is one of the draws of this serene region, located in the central Anatolia part of Turkey.
Chief among Cappadocia's draws is the eerily beautiful landscape. "Moonscape" is probably a better word to describe the strangely shaped caves and peaked formations formed over the eons by volcanic rock.
One of the most popular sites is the Goreme National Park, an open-air museum and Unesco World Heritage site, where clusters of pillars dot the landscape. Goreme was an early Christian monastic community during the first millennium, and inhabitants of the time chiseled homes and churches into the rock, some of which are open to visitors and still retain remarkably ornate, restored frescoes.
There are dozens of underground cities in the region, but one of the largest is Derinkuyu, about a half-hour from Goreme by car. Not for the claustrophobic, the site offers visitors a chance to descend into the houses, churches and schools that once thrived nearly 300 feet below the surface.
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Turkey is known for its ceramics, so it's hard to go anywhere without encountering souvenir shops and tents where touristy pottery is being hawked. For a more authentic experience, however, the Guray Museum in nearby Avanos is part showroom, part museum and part retail outlet. The underground museum takes visitors on a chronological journey of ceramic-making through the centuries with beautiful displays of ancient and modern artifacts.
A potter is on hand to demonstrate his skill at the potter's wheel, and a workshop houses local artists who produce hand-painted plates and objets d'art.
Because the landscape and culture of the region are such key factors to its appeal, arranging tours and excursions is simple.
At the 45-room House Hotel, for example, the staff will help organize hot-air ballooning and horseback riding as well as walking tours of the village and the local food market.
Each guestroom at the property is different, but most showcase the landscape with windows and terraces facing the dramatic views.
Other amenities include a spa with a hammam, an underground chapel and the indoor-outdoor Fresko restaurant with fine dining and a robust wine list.
Rates at the House Hotel range from about $140 to $285 per night, depending on the season.