In central Turkey, the town of Goreme sits within a setting often described as “moon-like” or “otherworldly”.
It’s a landscape of volcanic rock that has eroded over the years into dramatic hills, cliffs, and famous towering spires known as “fairy chimneys”.
Because the rock is soft enough here, people have carved cave shelters into the hills and below ground for centuries. These caves are still an important part of village life today.
Many have even been incorporated into modern homes, such as the one belonging to Perth’s Yvette Koc.
Koc’s five-storey Goreme home, which she shares with husband Senol and two daughters, includes two levels of old caves – one level dug into the hillside and one underground.
“We know from village elders and our own research that our caves were definitely in use up to 400 years ago, and most likely before that,” she says.
Nooks and crannies carved into the rock by past residents paint a picture of traditional Goreme life: there are feed stalls for different sized animals; “tandir” fire pits for cooking; and niches to hold looms in place while weaving carpets and kilims.
When the newer floors were built above the caves, the family made sure they fitted in with the traditional architectural style of the area, using recycled stones from old Ottoman buildings.
Koc recently decided to share her property’s charms with a wider audience by turning the home into a boutique hotel, Vista Cave Hotel, giving guests the chance to sleep in a cave room and get a feel for days gone by.
Visitors have been surprised by the deep sense of peace.
“Most comment that they’ve never slept better, as the caves are pretty much soundproof,” Koc says.
“We’ve had a few people sleep through [hot air] balloon and airport shuttle pick-ups, so we tend to keep an eye on the cave rooms. We wouldn’t want folks to miss their flights.”
Koc, who’s lived between Goreme and Australia since 1998, left behind a long-term career as an English teacher in the town to run the hotel.
She says Senol’s work in the carpet industry was in decline, which prompted the change in direction.
“It was primarily this reason, and the fact that we had an enormous house with several caves that we weren’t using, and a truly amazing view, that persuaded us to take the leap and turn the house into a hotel.”
Not all of their caves have been turned into guest rooms; in a nod to the past, one has been retained as a reservoir that holds up to 25 tonnes of water.
“Services can still be a bit sketchy here at times,” Koc says.
Other historic caves around Goreme function as stables, restaurants, Turkish baths and enormous pantries for fresh produce.
“This area contains the largest storage caves in Turkey for storing lemons and other fruits, particularly citrus, and vegetables like potatoes through the winter,” Koc says. “This is because caves breathe, and keep an ambient temperature of around 20 degrees all year round.”
Koc herself has become adept at growing local produce, working the family’s valley gardens that were handed down by Senol’s grandfather and father. She is well-compensated by a steady supply of pears, quince, apricots, walnuts and grapes.
“I’ve learnt to do a lot of things here that I may not necessarily have done in Australia because of different lifestyles and priorities, such as tending vineyards and orchards, making preserves, pickles, tomato paste, pasta, bread. All of these things have been great for the hotel!”
Koc has endeavoured to learn some of the traditional arts Turkey is famous for, drawing in ink on travertine stone and doing traditional ceramic painting in her downtime.
An avid social media user, she’s also a pro at recording village life on the hotel’s lively Instagram account.
“We may be cave dwellers, but we still have all the mod-cons!”