The Cave Dweller

How to turn a fairy chimney into a fashionable hotel.

By / December 2011

Caves and boutique hotels don’t normally go together. The one conjures images of wilderness, darkness, physical toil. The other: cityscapes, sunny hues, and quiet luxury. With Kismet Cave House, Faruk Keles has attempted to blend the two, creating an oasis of rugged comfort in Göreme, a small town in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey.

Keles, who opened the hotel four years ago, is one of dozens of local entrepreneurs who have capitalized on the recent influx of tourists to Cappadocia. Buoyed by exposure on the internet, the region’s bizarre fairy chimney rock formations—stone columns, some as tall as 40 feet, made by volcanic eruptions eons ago and smoothed out over time by wind and rain—have caused something of a frenzy in the world of travel.

For Keles, who grew up in Göreme, the decision to open a cave hotel inside the stone columns was a way to embrace the globe while staying rooted to his homeland.

Between the fairy chimneys and the valleys set amongst the folds of rock, Keles’s family, like most others in the area, were farmers. They grew grapes, apricots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and peppers. When he wasn’t in the field, Keles and childhood friends explored the landscape, investigating caves that had been used as homes by various inhabitants since ancient times, and also as churches and places of refuge by Christians fleeing persecution and death in the crowded coliseums and stadiums of the Roman empire.

In Keles’ youth, tourists to Cappadocia were rare, limited to a bus every now and then. In the mid-1980’s Cappadocia was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Remains of a large monastery set in caves above Göreme, extensive underground cities in nearby places like Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, and the millennia old tradition of hand made and painted pottery a few kilometers away in Avanos had attracted the attention of archeologists, historians, and preservationists alike.

Soon this quiet farming community was flooded with sightseers from all over the world. Restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops opened next to old homes and small businesses on the streets of Göreme.

The sudden interest in Cappadocia made Keles look at his surroundings with new eyes. Of course the land had been special to him before, but his interaction with visitors gave him a dose of hometown pride. When he was 16 years old, Keles left the family farm to take a job in a restaurant. An array of jobs followed, from working in campgrounds to selling Turkish carpets.

More than the money he was making, Keles was captivated by his interactions with visitors to Cappadocia. By the late 1990’s, his interactions with tourists had fomented into the idea of opening a hotel. “Wherever people are from,” he said, “whatever their color or appearance, whatever their religion, I decided this was a very fitting way to share my life with them, to understand and be understood by them.”

Keles’s family, however, opposed the idea. Hotel owners had a bad rap among locals.

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