For Luxury, Look East

Article excerpt

Byline: Akhil Sharma

Beyond Istanbul's bustle, the rest of Turkey beguiles upscale travelers.

The surprising thing about the Museum Hotel is not what it is--a museum and a hotel--but where it is, in Cappadocia, in eastern Turkey.

For anyone who has traveled outside of Istanbul, there is the surprising slide in the quality of accommodation that occurs as soon as one leaves the city. Staffers rarely speak English, so when you ask for a salad they bring you a pillow. Water in the shower suddenly turns brown. While Turkey's rapid economic growth (averaging 9 percent a year until recently) has received a great deal of attention, the fact that the wealth has led to the possibility of luxury travel throughout the country has been much discussed.

"The Museum Hotel is a property that has been expanding luxury in Turkey to areas beyond Istanbul," Christos Stergiou tells me. Stergiou is the founder of True Greece (truegreece.com), one of Greece's leading luxury-tour operators, a company that has received acclaim in Conde Nast Traveler, the Financial Times, Travel and Leisure, and many other outlets. He has recently expanded his brand to Turkey with True Turkey (trueturkey.com). "Until the last few years," he says, "international-level luxury was largely restricted to Istanbul. Because our guests expect a certain level of comfort, it was hard for us to take them out of the city."

The Museum Hotel certainly speaks the language of what international travelers say they want: luxury combined with authenticity. Standing not so much on a plateau as inside a hill, the property is carved into a bluff that overlooks the cliffs and ravines and strange pillars that make Cappadocia resemble something out of a Dali painting. Throughout the complex there are vitrines with ancient coins, jewelry, ceramics. Inside the rooms, there are mannequins draped with old textiles. The chef has won numerous awards and serves recipes that are centuries old.

As luxury hotels have been built, other vendors for the non-backpacking crowd have also come into existence. One of the classic experiences of visiting Cappadocia is an early-morning hot-air balloon ride. When I did this, as I floated above the eerie, silent landscape, the seams on the cliffs began to fill with red as if lava were running down them. The company that I chose for my ride, Royal Balloon, uses propane gas to inflate the balloon instead of the less expensive and slightly more dangerous butane gas, a detail pointed out to me by the pilot of my balloon. "We are now getting guests who are willing to pay for slightly better quality," he said, "and so there are companies that are willing to provide such things. …