Going local -- hotels with that regional look

Antik Tatlı Dede Hotel, Mardin (PHOTOS PAT YALE)

February 19, 2012, Sunday/ 12:00:00

First-time visitors to Turkey are often surprised by the homogeneity of the architecture. It doesn’t matter where they go. Everywhere they see the same high-rise apartment-cum-shopping blocks. Rarely do they come across anything particularly original.

Yet the reality is that until recently Anatolian Turkey was characterized by the diversity of its buildings. Whether it was the simple wooden chalets of the northeast or the elegant townhouses of the coast, the cave-houses of Cappadocia or the vast stone mansions of the Southeast, the one thing it was true to say of Turkey was that it was a country of the regions, in architecture as much as in clothes and food.

Slowly, though, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s dream of a strongly unified country has come true inasmuch as there is now a clear Turkish way of building as well as of dressing and cooking that applies from Edirne to Hopa and from Datça to Hakkari. But a few places have held out against bland conformity and one of the good-news tourism stories of the last 10 years has been the conversion of all sorts of distinctively regional buildings into boutique hotels. They’re rarely the cheapest shows in town but their success is encouraging others to jump on the bandwagon.


If there’s one part of the country where visitors certainly know that they’re going to be able to stay in unique hotels, that part has to be Cappadocia, right in the heart of the country, where the old troglodyte dwellings are being turned into classy hotels almost faster than their erstwhile cavemen and women occupants can vacate them for high-rise apartments in Nevşehir.

Cave hotels are a phenomenon. Most mix and match true caves hacked out of the rock with stone-built rooms with graceful arched ceilings which means that there will be something suitable even for people who worry that a cave will mean not just super-silent nights but, perhaps, a claustrophobic experience.

Cave hotels come with all sorts of wacky features specific to the life that used to go on in them: niches in which grapes were once trodden for wine, rock-cut mangers for the cattle, tandır ovens cut into the floor, etc. One or two retain reminders of the days when hermit monks inhabited the area. Others incorporate scary rock-cut ladders used to get up to pigeonhouses.

These days there are so many excellent cave hotels that it’s hard to know which to recommend. These are some of my personal favorites: Anatolian Houses, Göreme (Tel.: 0 [384] 271 24 63, www.anatolianhouses.com.tr), Kelebek Hotel, Göreme (Tel.: 0 [384] 271 25 31, www.kelebekhotel.com), Koza Cave Hotel, Göreme (Tel.: 0 [384] 271 24 66, www.kozacavehotel.com), Esbelli Evi, Ürgüp (Tel.: 0 [384] 341 33 95, www.esbelli.com), Yunak Evleri, Ürgüp (Tel.: 0 [384] 341 69 20, www.yunak.com), Argos in Cappadocia, Üçhisar (Tel.: 0 [384] 219 31 30, www.argosincappadocia.com), and Les Maisons de Cappadoce, Üçhisar (Tel.: 0 [384] 219 28 13, www.cappadoce.com).

Mardin and Midyat

The area around Mardin and Midyat in the Southeast has also become well known, particularly to Turks, for its distinctive architecture, with lovely honey-colored buildings with frilly decoration around the doors and windows the norm. It was the Erdoba Konakları (Tel.: 0 [482] 213 77 87, www.erdoba.com.tr) in Mardin that got into the hotel-conversion act first. The two main buildings boast some truly stunning rooms, not to mention views from the terraces -- just don’t let yourself be fobbed off with a room in the annex. The Erdoba spawned the Antik Tatlı Dede (Tel.: 0 [482] 213 27 20, www.tatlidede.com.tr), Zinciriye (Tel.: 0 [482] 212 48 66, www.zinciriye.com), and Dara Konağı (Tel.: 0 [482] 232 32 72, www.darakonagi.com) hotels. Now newbies are sprouting up all over, none of them cheap.

In nearby Midyat the Governor’s Residence (Konukevi, Tel.: 0 [482] 464 07 19) was turned into a somewhat half-hearted but gloriously beautiful hotel. More recently the lovely Kasr-ı Nehroz (Tel.: 0 [482] 464 25 25, www.hotelnehroz.com) opened its doors, as did the flashy Shmayaa Hotel (Tel.: 0 [482] 464 06 96).


Hatay is the tongue of Turkey that hangs down towards Syria. Given its location, Antakya (Hatay) was always bound to feel more Levantine than the rest of Turkey, a fact still reflected in a local cuisine with many Middle Eastern twists. Here you’ll find the stylish Liwan Hotel (Tel.: 0 [326] 215 77 77, www.theliwanhotel.com), originally built as a home in the 1920s for Syria’s Turkish-born first head of state. Derelict for many years, it has now been restored and offers a super-smart suite of rooms, some of them overlooking a pleasing courtyard restaurant.


In Antep they believed in building big and they believed in building stripy. First of the wonderful mansions hidden behind the city’s high walls to open as a hotel was the Anadolu Evleri (Tel.: 0 [342] 220 95 25, www.anadoluevleri.com), where breakfast can be strung out forever in an Escheresque courtyard. Newer are the pretty Asude Konak (Tel.: 0 [342] 231 20 44, www.asudekonak.com) and the slightly ramshackle Belkis Han (Tel.: 0 [342] 231 10 84, www.belkishan.com).


The big families of eastern Turkey always demanded big houses to accommodate them, and strict rules on privacy dictated that conservative Urfa’s mansions, like those in Antep, should be hidden behind high walls. But whereas black and white geometric patterns rule the roost in Antep, in Urfa the color meshes more with the gentle honey tones of Mardin, although the decoration is less exuberant.

One of the first Urfa houses to be turned into a hotel was the old governor’s house, the Cevahir Konukevi (Tel.: 0 [414] 215 83 77, www.cevahirkonukevi.com), where the décor of the bedrooms fails to live up to the promise of the building. If you manage to find it in the warren of backstreets, the Yıldız Sarayı Konukevi (Tel.: 0 [414] 215 94 94, www.yildizsarayikonukevi.com) does better with rooms that plead for you to play Ottoman in them. Cheaper is the Beyzade Konak (Tel.: 0 [414] 216 35 35, www.beyzadekonak.com), where the less said about the décor the better.

Like the converted caravanserai hotels, these Urfa mansions suffer from the effort to be all things to all people, with the desires of diners or guests at noisy sıra geceleri (Turkish nights with an Urfalı twist) often overriding those of guests in search of a restful night.


Perhaps the single most extraordinary example of Turkish regional accommodation is the Harran Kültür Evi “hotel” (www.harrankulturevi.com) inside some of the iconic beehive houses whose existence is mentioned in the Bible. Forget any idea of luxury here. You have a choice -- bed down for the night on the floor beneath the chimney-like ceilings or spread out under the stars on a taht, one of the wooden “thrones” that locals sleep on on their roofs during the scorching nights of the southeastern summer.


It might come as a surprise to learn that Kars in the remote northeast has one excellent hotel created out of a building in the old “Baltic” quarter near the Church of the Twelve Apostles (now a mosque). Front on, the dark stonework of the Kar’s Oteli (Tel.: 0 [474] 212 16 16, www.karsotel.com) looks rather austere. Round the back, however, it’s a different story, with lovely whitewashed balconies opening off rooms that major on elegant simplicity.

Bozcaada, Ayvalık and Cunda

On the Aegean coast, Bozcaada, Ayvalık and Cunda all retain whole streets of stately stone townhouses once owned by Ottoman Greeks. Some of these have been turned into exquisite hotels whose tiny size certainly justifies the “boutique” label. On Bozcaada the colorful, characterful Rengigül Konukevi (Tel.: 0 [286] 697 81 71, www.rengigul.net) is run by an ex-teacher whose breakfasts are a legend, while the Katina Hotel (Tel.: 0 [286] 697 02 42, www.katinaas.com) plays more to designer chic.

In Ayvalık the Bonjour Pansiyon (Tel.: 0 [266] 312 80 85, www.bonjourpansiyon.com) started life as the French Consulate in around 1900. Its lobby is something of a time capsule, although the bedrooms are plainer, and the annex dull. Near the ruined Taksiyarhis Church (slated to become the next Koç Museum) the Taksiyarhis Pansiyon (Tel.: 0 [266] 312 14 94, www.taksiyarhispension.com) rambles in bohemian style round two houses. Bathrooms are shared. Shoes must be removed.


Foreigners love Ayvalık but Turks just adore Alaçatı, not so long ago a village of derelict stone houses once owned by Greeks, now almost one solid hotel. The Taş Otel (Tel.: 0 [232] 716 77 72, www.tasotel.com), with its cool turquoise windows and doors, was first off the block. Its successors have wisely stuck to its tried and tested recipe.


Muğla is the capital of the province that is home to Bodrum, itself no slouch when it comes to hanging on to its pretty Greek-islandesque appearance. Most visitors are in too much of a hurry to get to Bodrum to hang about in Muğla. Were they to do so, they might come across the delightful family-run Mavi Konak (Tel.: 0 [252] 214 70 07, www.mavi-konak.eu), housed in a 19th-century house with wooden balconies ringing a garden courtyard. Rooms are unflashy but boast big, solid fireplaces.

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