Today Cappadocia is a tourist hotspot in the heart of Central Turkey but this has not always been the case. The human history of Cappadocia stretches back thousands of years and spans many empires.
When you visit this geological wonderland know that you are walking on ground ruled by the Hittites, Eastern Mushki, Persians, Macedonians, Romans/Byzantines, Seljuks, Karamanids, Ottomans, and the Republic of Turkey. That is quite a Who’s Who of empires!
The boundaries of the area of Cappadocia have changed through that time. At one point it extended north all the way to the Black Sea and south to the Taurus Mountains, but today it is not even an official region in Turkey. The historical name of the area has been kept for tourist reasons and what people visit today is only 150 miles by 250 miles touching five Turkish provinces (Kayseri, Nevsehir, Kirsehir, Aksaray, and Nigde).
The current name comes from an adapted form of Katpatuka which it was called by the Persians. With the fall of the Hittites around the 12th century B.C. the Eastern Mushki ruled the area. The next we hear is King Croesus, he of fabulous wealth and ill-fated oracles, who comes on the scene but is quickly defeated by the Persians in the 6th century B.C.
The Persians ruled the region from a distance, i.e. the local leaders most likely had their way as long as they did not get out of hand, until Alexander the Great defeated them. At that point somehow in the chaos of Alexander’s death, Cappadocia became a kingdom. Ariarathes I was king from 331-320. His sons followed him, and Cappadocia was ruled as a kingdom until 17 A.D. when the Roman emperor decided to make it a province. The Cappadocians had had good relations with the Romans since 188 B.C. but the Emperor Tiberius changed the status in a fit of anger at the Cappadocian king.
From that point the history of Cappadocia is rather straightforward, at least from a big picture view. The Romans gave way to the Byzantines (who were actually Romans) who controlled the area until the Seljuks moved into the area after the battle of Manzikert in 1071. The Seljuks of Rum ruled for a time until they were defeated by the Mongols and the Karamanids (from Karaman southeast of Cappadocia) took over in their rivalry with the growing Ottoman dynasty. During your time in Cappadocia, you may visit a caravanserai as they are popular on many of the tours. You have the Seljuks to thank for this. Be sure to note the unique architecture they introduced to this land. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, the Republic of Turkey was formed and that is how things currently stand.
But in all of this changing of empires, the most striking aspect of Cappadocia, its cave communities, has gone unmentioned. The first Christians arrived in Cappadocia shortly after the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the Christian religion. They are mentioned in the Bible on at least 2 occasions, most clearly when the apostle Peter writes them in his first epistle.
The Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, played a significant role in the development of Christian theology in the 4th century. They also established the monastic communities that would survive for hundreds of years.
Islam arrived with the Seljuks and was continued with the Ottomans. Both ruling groups built mosques and madrasas, many of which are still standing today.
For most of the Ottoman days there was a mix of peoples living together, but that ended with the forced people swap between Turkey and Greece in 1923-24. You may visit Mustafapasa while you are in Cappadocia and see the remnants of the Greeks who inhabited the area.
One other note worth pointing out was the creation of Nevsehir, the provincial capital. This town was first famous as Nyssa, the home of Gregory mentioned above. Then it fell off the map and was just a small village until Damat Ibrahim Pasha became Grand Vezir to the sultan in 1718. He poured money into the region transforming his small village into a “new city”, thus the name Nevsehir which translates as new city. The mosque and hamam complex he built are still in use today.
And with that we have flown through 3000+ years of Cappadocia history. Hopefully this will make your time here more meaningful. As you trek through caves and valleys think of all those who have come before you and enjoy the legacy they have left to us.
Luxury in a Turkish Cave
By Jonathan Look
My passion is traveling the world and searching out unusual experiences. On a recent trip to Turkey, after several wondrous days in Istanbul, I wanted to try something a little different. I had dreamed about visiting Cappadocia, an enchanted place on the fabled “Silk Road” in central Turkey where stones sprout from the ground like mushrooms, cities are carved from mountains, and the winemakers have been plying their trade since before the 4th century B.C. I also wanted to enjoy a uniquely authentic Cappadocian experience, so I arranged to stay in one of the regions’ best cave accommodations; the Taskonaklar Hotel.
The thought of staying in a cave—a cold, damp, musty chamber with no light—is not on the surface very appealing, but I deferred to my friends who had visited Cappadocia and said that staying in one should be at the top of my list of things to do.
As I drove my rental car from Kayseri, through the legendary landscape of the Anatolia, I found myself traveling in a surreal painting of crumpled, terra cotta colored hills pierced by cream-colored spires. This was not the place of my dreams; it exceeded them. In the distance, I could see Uçhisar, my destination. This citadel of barren rock, the highest point in Cappadocia, towered over the surrounding plains. Just below the summit, carved into the solid rock, I could see dozens of windows peering over the surroundings, with the city itself spilled further below surrounding the fortress. I navigated my car through absurdly narrow alleyways and finally found the small sign announcing the Taskonaklar Hotel.
As I arrived onto the property I was presented with a panoramic view of Pigeon Valley below. The vista was interrupted by scores of “fairy chimneys,” skinny pyramidshaped
spires that jutted from the valley, many of which themselves have been carved by
Byzantine settlers into desert homes. I was shown to my suite and quickly discovered that, although I was going to be living in a cave carved from solid rock, I wasn’t
going to be living as a troglodyte. My suite had a huge private terrace that overlooked
the stunning surroundings, hardwood floors, a stone fireplace, Turkish rugs, fine linens, and all the modern amenities you would expect from a world-class hotel. I asked for a tour of the property and was proudly shown an establishment that shows evidence of accommodating travelers for millennia. Each suite is unique; some had ancient tandoori ovens carved into the floor while others had wine presses, and vats
carved into the rock. Others had hot tubs with unimpeded views of the landscape.
On the surface, thoughts created when you think “cave hotel,” don’t inspire luxury or even comfort, but once again, travel has altered my expectations. Not only did I get a huge helping of unique, I also received a generous measure of luxury, which I couldn’t have imagined from a cave before.
Editor’s Note: Jonathan Look, Jr. writes about life, retirement, and travel at his website LifePart2.com.
Thank you Jon for your lovely article!!
Turkish Food in Cappadocia
One of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting Turkey is the food. Turks may not be the most famous in the kitchen, but that means delicious surprises await you upon your arrival.
Coming to Cappadocia will give you no lack of opportunities to sample tasty Turkish treats. Begin each morning with Taşkonaklar Hotel’s renowned Turkish breakfast full of locally grown products. Fill your plate with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh baked breads and rolls (poaça), honey, homemade jellies/jams, and eggs (try menemen to be really Turkish, a mix of peppers, tomatoes and eggs), and Turkish tea or coffee. That should tide you over until lunch, but if you need a snack in between we recommend pistachios from Antep or locally grown and dried apricots.
Breakfast at Taşkonaklar
For lunch the choices are all mouth watering. Begin with a steaming hot bowl of lentil soup (mercimek). For the main course perhaps you will prefer the grilled meatballs (köfte) or chicken on the skewer (tavuk shish). If not, try the Adana kebap (spiced ground beef on a skewer) or the Kuzu shish (lamb on a skewer). If that sounds too heavy, then you may want the cheese or mince meat pide (pronounced pee-day) which is an elongated Turkish version of pizza without tomato sauce. Or you can try the baked beans (kuru fasulye) and rice, which are the favorite of many Turks. Each of these goes well with an Efes Beer. Once you finish take some time to sit and chat while enjoying a cup of Turkish tea and some baklava.
Pide (Turkish pizza)
If you need a snack before dinner while you are out and about on a tour, try some Turkish Delight and a cup of fresh squeezed pomegranate and orange juice which can be found at most tourist stops.
When you sit down to the dinner table be ready for a Turkish feast. Begin with some appetizers (mezes) which could include a tomato-pepper salsa, yogurt and dill (cacik), roasted mushrooms smothered in cheese, humus, an eggplant/aubergine (patlican) salad, and fresh bread (the Turkish meze menu can go on for pages).
For the main entree someone in your party needs to order the Testi Kebab, a Cappadocian specialty. Take cubed beef and put it in a seramic pot; add tomatoes, peppers, garlic, spices, and a special sauce; seal it and throw it in the tandir oven for 2 hours. The waiter will bring the sealed pot to your table and break it open in front of you. Once the steam clears enjoy.
For the others in your party (or for the other evenings of your trip) order Imam Bayildi (Imam Fainted) which is Eggplant/aubergine stuffed with sauteed tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic, or Karni Yarik which is similar to Imam Bayildi except that it also has ground beef. Both are wonderful if you enjoy eggplant.
Wash this down with a Cappadocian wine of which Kocabağ and Turasan are the most well-known. You may be surprised at the level of quality Cappadocia wineries have achieved.
And with that you have feasted and can be rolled back to your cave hotel room. But, honestly, this is just a sliver of Turkish cuisine. We could go on and on with recommendations, but we will not except for a few items we could not fit into our perfect day.
You may be staying in Turkey for longer than 2-3 days and want to try a larger variety of dishes. In that case we can recommend a few “common” items that almost every Turk, from the lowest street cleaner to the president himself, enjoys.
A FEW MORE OPTIONS
* Lahmacun is an Anatolian specialty, truly a “food of the people”. It is usually the least expensive item on the menu. It is pizza-shaped but is thinner and has no tomato sauce or cheese.
* Simit looks like a type of bagel with sesame seeds. It is chewy and delicious, especially when it is fresh. You will find two kinds of simit. The street vendors sell a harder, darker type whereas the bakeries will offer a golden brown, softer version. Try them both and let us know your favorite.
* Gözleme is similar to a Mexican quesadilla except that it is usually square and comes in more flavors. You can get it with cheese or spinach or potatoes or onions. The bread is called yufka and is thinner than a tortilla.
* Döner comes from the Turkish word which means “to turn” and describes the way the spiced meat (usually lamb or chicken) is cooked. This is Turkish fast food at its essence and can be found on almost every street corner in urban areas. This is also called Gyro or Schwarma in other parts of the world.
* DRINKS – Two drinks not mentioned are Ayran which is a salted yogurt drink that is the staple of every child in Turkey and Raki which is an anise liquor (think liquid black licorice) made famous for being Ataturk’s favorite drink.
And with that you have enough to keep your palate happy and your stomach full. If you leave Turkey without gaining a few pounds, you have more self-disicipline than most. Consider it a way to take Turkey back home with you.
When God carved out Cappadocia, He apparently had a little trouble keeping His hand steady. For this we must be thankful.
This is made abundantly clear from the sky. As any visitor who has flown in a hot air balloon will tell you, the view of the many Cappadocia valleys is breathtaking.
But the ground is the locus from which the valleys are truly to be enjoyed. Spending at least one day hiking through a Cappadocia valley (or mountain biking if that is your thing) is a must.
In the central Cappadocia area at least 5 valleys are easily accessible. Pack a bottle of water, take a picnic lunch if you choose, wear decent shoes/boots as the trails can be slippery and/or wet/muddy in places depending on recent weather. Expect to spend 3-4 hours in most of the valleys and work out transportation beforehand since they do not go in circles but end a few kilometers from the trailhead.
This valley descends from Uçhisar to Göreme. You can go both directions but starting in Uçhisar is easier since it goes downhill the whole way to Göreme. This trail has two starting points in Uçhisar. The longer route starts on the backside of the town near the Overlook point. The shorter trail starts close to the fork in the Göreme – Uçhisar road. About 100 meters after the fork (heading up the hill from Göreme) you will see a sign for Pigeon Valley and bunch of wooden birds on poles). Once you get to Göreme look across the parking lot from the bus station, and you will find a public bus that leaves towards Nevşehir every half hour. This bus will drop you off in Uçhisar.
Across from Ortahisar a couple of kilometers down a road is a panorama viewpoint. This marks the beginnings of the multiple trails into both Rose and Red Valleys. The trails take different routes but all end in the same place near Çavuşin village. These valleys have a wonderful combination of ancient churches, panoramic views, and freaky landscape. If you happen to be in Cappadocia during a full moon, then you may want to plan a moonlight hike through this valley. Groups do this each month. It is even possible without flashlights on a cloudless night.
This trail starts on the Ürgüp – Nevşehir road not far after the Uçhisar turn off (heading towards Ürgüp). The first dip into the valley is quite steep but after that the trail levels off for most of the way except for one spot for which you need to use a rope to go down a drop off (about 15 feet but not difficult). At one point the trail splits, and you must make a decision. Go left and you will follow a little plateau with great views and no shade. Go right and you follow the lower trail through the overgrowth, past cave churches, and in and out of orchards and vineyards. Both trails end at the same place on the Open Air Museum road outside of Göreme.
Kiliclar (Swords) Valley
Right past the Göreme Open Air museum sits the entrance to this mini-valley. If you are in a hurry, this is the best choice as it is about half the length of the other valleys. Besides being shorter it is unique in its landscape as well having more accessible fairy chimneys and cave churches than the other valleys. If you have elementary-age children, this may be your best bet. It ends in the area between Göreme and Çavuşin.
This is the most interestingly named of Cappadocia’s valleys. We will leave it to you to figure out what we mean, but we do not expect it will remain a mystery once you make the trek. Love Valley is less of a trail and more of an opportunity to wonder around fairy chimneys and along the base of cliffs. This is another good one for children. Take a picnic and spend a few hours climbing and exploring.
Which Cappadocia valley strikes your fancy?
Be sure to leave a comment detailing your experiences.
Most travellers want to get something to remember the places they visit and their family and friends are happy to receive a little something as well.
So what does this mean for Cappadocia visitors?
You do not need to worry. There is no lack of options from which you can choose. The key is finding just the right item(s).
The Cappadocia shops and stands have all the normal stuff you will find throughout Turkey, often with a Cappadocia twist. Do you want a fairy chimney and hot air balloon t-shirt? How about magnets, or clay fairy chimneys, hats, bags, table cloths, or wall hangings? All of these are reasonably priced and readily available.
Perhaps you were thinking of a scarf, shawl, traditional clothing, cut glass lamps, decorations, or jewelry? Yes, you will find these in every town.
FOOD & WINE
Maybe food is the way to go. Do you like dried fruits and nuts grown in Cappadocia? How about apple tea with those special tulip-shaped glasses? Or even better, Cappadocia wines produced at one of the wineries in the area? Check.
CARPETS & CERAMICS
But if you want to spend a little more for some quality items then Turkish carpets and rugs or ceramics are the way to go. Cappadocia is a great place for carpet shopping with many shops selling handmade (local as well as from other parts of Turkey and beyond) carpets and rugs. You can spend anywhere from $1000 to $50,000.
Another excellent option is to visit a pottery shop in Avanos and pick out an Hittite wine jug or beautifully hand painted plate. Each item is a work of art.
If you enjoy a glass of wine, then Cappadocia is a place to to partake of the fruit of the vine. You will find four local wineries who each make a variety of types: Turasan, Kocabağ, Kapadokya, and Şenol.
The most popular red wines are Öküzgözü (grown in Elaziğ), Boğazkere (grown in Diyarbakir), and a mix of the two. The biggest selling white wine is made from the locally grown Emir grape. Two of the companies (Kapadokya and Şenol) only make these four types of wine while Turasan and Kocabağ make these four plus a host of other types including Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (grown in Izmir).
Turasan is the biggest and oldest winery based in Cappadocia with over 25 types of wine. Their factory is in Urgup, and they offer factory tours (for a fee) and tasting. Started in 1943 you can find their wine in most stores (that sell alcohol) and restaurants in Cappadocia as well as throughout Turkey.
Kocabağ Winery has been opened since 1972 and has tasting rooms in Cappadocia in both Urgup and Uchisar. They make about 17 different wines. Their higher quality wines are branded with the Kocabağ name. These are wines that use grapes grown in Kocabağ vineyards at different places in Turkey. If they make wine using grapes bought from local vineyards, generally a lower grade grape, they brand them under a different name and put the Kocabağ name in a much smaller font on the bottle.
Turasan and Kocabağ are 2 of the larger wineries in Turkey. The remaining two Cappadocia wineries are on the smaller side and are a bit harder to find.
Kapadokya Winery was opened in Mustafapasa in 1956 and is a family run winery. They only make 4 wines (Öküzgözü, Boğazkere, a mix of the two, all red wines; and Emir, a white wine made from grapes grown in Cappadocia). They do not own their own vineyards but buy their grapes from local vineyard owners. They make their wine in a unique way by not separating the juice from the pulp during the fermenting process. It makes the wine much more aromatic almost smelling like grape juice. It makes for a unique flavor that will probably not be as popular to wine connoisseurs. They sell most of their wines through hotels and restaurants around the country (especially Antalya) making it difficult to find outside of the wine shops in Mustafapasa.
Şenol Winery, like Kapadokya mentioned above, only makes four types of wine. Opened in 1959 in Mustafapasa they have been run by the same family. They are a small winery only producing 300,000 liters annually. They sell most of their wine in hotels and restaurants. If you want to try them, take a trip to Mustafapasa and enjoy a tasting in one of the many local wine shops.
These are the four wineries producing in Cappadocia. Take some time while you are here to taste the different brands and let us know which is your favorite.
Do you appreciate uncertainties when you are planning your vacations?
Neither do we, which is why we want to help you with the Cappadocia weather forecast.
Cappadocia has four distinct seasons and is relatively mild in each of them. The winter lasts from November through March, April to mid-June ushers in the spring, and then summer runs through the end of August. September and October bring about the fall transition back to winter.
Generally speaking Cappadocia’s is a dry climate, do not expect much humidity. Look for some winds in the spring and some fog in the late fall. Rain in the summer is a rarity but not uncommon in the fall and spring with a few snowfalls each winter. The hot air balloons fly up to 330 days per year!
The winter will see a few snowfalls with 15 centimeters being a lot for one storm. Cappadocia weather during the winter months is quite unpredictable. One day could be cold and rainy, the next snowy, and the next nice and sunny. Oftentimes the extended forecast is wrong so if you are coming to stay in a cozy boutique cave hotel during these months, be sure to dress in layers and include a winter coat. Most days will be near freezing and the nights will see negative temperatures. Those who get to see Cappadocia blanketed with snow experience a special trat, but predicting which days will snow is nigh impossible.
Late April and May are the nicest months to visit Cappadocia. In early April expect windy days and a number of hot air balloon cancellations but by the end of the month and all of May the rains usually have stopped and most every day is paradisical. Expect temperatures on most days to be between 20-25 celsius with sunny skies (the first half of April is more uncertain). On a few days do not be surprsied to run for cover from a scattered thunderstorm.
Cappadocia’s summers are dry and hot but not oppressive. As you look around the towns and villages, you will notice that very few of the local residents have air conditioners. This is because the temperatures reach 40 degrees celsius for 3-4 weeks at most, usually from late July to late August. These are the most certain days with an almost monotonous perfection- sunny, dry, and hot. Ahhh, Cappadocia weather in the summer.
Cappadocia’s fall mirrors the spring. September and October along with late April to early June are the nicest times to be in Cappadocia if nice weather is your cup of tea. Warm sunny days followed by cool evenings with beautiful sunsets every night.
And thus we have completed the circle through a year of Cappadocia weather.
Whether you prefer sitting by your cozy cave room fireplace while it is snowing outside or hiking the valleys in shorts and sunglasses, now you know when to book your trip.
Cappadocia Churches & Mosques
Cappadocia is an ancient land with a fascinating religious history. It is even mentioned in the Book of Acts in the Christian Bible. The earliest Christians were here almost 2000 years ago and by the 3rd and 4th centuries were using the caves for churches and monasteries. They lived here without pause until the 1920s when they were forced to move to Greece. Besides caves many Greek church buildings are still standing. Islam entered with the Seljuks after 1200, and they built mosques and madrasas as well as caravansarais in the region.
Many visitors to the area are unaware of this and miss out on all that is available. Of course, one can only see so many caves before they all meld together, but we will let you decide which caves to see before passing that line.
The most popular group of cave churches can be found at the Goreme Open Air Museum. This community of churches with their breathtaking paintings dates mostly from the 9th-11th centuries. But there are a number of other ancient cave churches close by. On the road to the museum take a right before the horse ranch and go up a ways to see the El Nazar Church. Right after the horses on the right you will find the Sakli Church. Then after the museum, further up the hill, you will find the Aynali and Firkatan Churches. Most of these require small entrance fees.
Move down the road a ways to Cavusin village and see the lower church behind Cavusin Seramic. Then head up the hill to the upper church which claims to be the oldest and biggest church in the region. There is not much left of this one and getting to it can be an adventure, but once inside you will see that it was a church in the distant past with its faded paintings.
Around the corner from Cavusin and past Pasabag you will find Zelve Open Air Museum and its churches and monasteries. This area was inhabited until the 1960s but is now a national park. You will not find ao many paintings here, but the space is larger and less crowded and the entrance fee is less than Goreme’s museum.
Next head past Avanos to Gulsehir where you will find the beautifully restored St. Jeans two-story cave church. On the other side of town is the old Greek area where you will find not a cave church but a real building. Ask the Muhtar for the key and look around. This building is not restored so you will find it rather barren. On the way back to Avanos take a detour through Ozkonak and view the unrestored Belha monastery as well as the underground city.
MUSTAFAPASA – SINASOS
If you go all the way past Urgup you will soon arrive at Mustafapasa which was formerly known as Sinasos when the Greeks inhabited it until 1924.
But before arriving don’t miss the cave churches up the hills to the right side of the road between Urgup and Mustafapasa. You could spend hours traipsing around these hills exploring the numerous caves.
In Mustafapasa you will find both cave churches and buildings, remnants of the Greek community that lived there for over 1000 years.
Besides these places you will find cave churches in Red/Rose Valley as well as Ihlara Valley. In addition, hike or drive around Cappadocia and do not be surprised to find countless cave churches off the road in every direction.
NIGDE & KAYSERI
While heading down towards Ihlara stop to see the churches within Kaymakli and Derinkuyu underground cities. Keep going and find Monastery valley outside of Guzelyurt. Not far from there is the Red Church and the Upper Church (Yuksek Kilisesi). Then in the cities of Nigde and Kayseri (not common stops for most visitors to Cappadocia) you will find many more ancient church remains.
MOSQUES & MADRASAS
But as we mentioned earlier the Seljuk Muslims moved into the area after 1200 and left their mark with many mosques and madrasas. The Ottomans continued this architectural development and the Turks have followed on with similar zeal.
For the truly grand Islamic buildings Istanbul is the place to be, of course, but Cappadocia has its share of historic sites. Every town and village will have mosques which you can visit if you show the proper respect. But a few buildings standout which we will note here.
Nevsehir’s mosque, madrasa, and hamam complex was built by Nevserhirli Damat Ibrahimpasa when he was Grand Vizier in the early 1700s. Also, Kayseri has a beautiful Seljuk complex standing in the center of the city. Avanos’ Alaadin mosque purports to be 800 years old (at least there has been a mosque on that site for 800 years according to locals). And you may enjoy Cavusin villages cave mosque, one of the few cave mosques in the region. Besides these and many more you will also find ancient caravanserais built mainly by the Seljuks but used throughout Ottoman times. Most of them lie in ruins but a few have been restored and are available for tours.
Lastly, head northwest of Avanos to Haci Bektas for a unique experience. Turkish Alevis, a curious sect of Islam and minority group within Turkey, look to this town as their core and the mystic after whom it is named as their spiritual father. Here you will find a museum complex explaining the beliefs and practices of this man and his followers.
And with that you have taken the spiritual history tour of Cappadocia. Europe has its magnifient cathedrals and Istanbul its grand mosques, but Cappadocia is unique with its mix of evidence of the human search for connection with God both below and above ground throughout the last 2000 years.
Enjoy taking a bit of it in while you are here and let us know what you think.
Taking a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most people.
The excitement builds as the plans come together. The plane tickets are purchased, the hotel is chosen, the tours are discussed, and the hot air balloon is reserved.
Then the day comes when you are turning out the light a bit earlier than normal for the very early alarm. A few hours later you find yourself hopping out of a bed at a time normally reserved for dreaming. But today dreams are coming true so why keep sleeping?
The adrenaline is immediately flowing and your lips curl upwards into a perpetual smile as you get ready, head to the lobby of your boutique cave hotel, and wait for the hot air balloon company van to pick you up.
While the van navigates the dark streets of Cappadocia, you quietly talk about what to expect while somewhere in the back of your mind you are thinking, “So this is what the world looks like at this hour?”
After a cup of tea or coffee and a bite to eat you wait on pins and needles for the hot air balloon staffer to tell you the time has come to get back in the van. Your silent prayers for light winds have been answered, that little bit of anxiety vanishes, and the excitement really starts to build.
A few minutes later you exit the van and watch the crews finish blowing up the balloons while trying to capture every aspect on digital film. Once the balloon is hovering above your basket, they help you climb in and start giving the instructions.
Silently and with no fanfare all of the sudden you are floating. That moment is truly freaky in its non-eventness. Airplanes build speed and gradually take off, first front wheels, then back. Rockets have the countdown and then all the smoke before finally ascending. Hot air balloons are on the ground one second and off the next, and unless you are watching you do not even realize what has happened.
The ground becomes a distant mass as the intermittent Darth Vader-like sounds of the burning propane send the hot air balloon above Cappadocia’s valleys and fairy Chimneys. The experienced pilot who has done this countless times has no directional control, only altitude and spin. Like a blown dandelion you go where the wind takes you. In Cappadocia that means in and out of valleys and around fairy chimneys. Even with slight winds you will be surprised how far you travel in an hour.
But in spite of your wishes, the 60 minutes does float by, and next thing you know you are descending into a random Cappadocia field. Assuming the landing position, you brace for impact, and…bump! The crew jumps on one side to keep the basket from bouncing or tipping, and once everything is settled, they help you back onto land.
Quickly a table is set up and an impromptu ceremony begins. Champagne or juice or Mimosas all around and certificates or medals handed out. Once everyone has finished snapping photos and thanking the pilot and crew – don’t forget to leave a tip – you are back in the van and returning to your hotel for second breakfast, as the hobbits would call it.
The day has not even really begun, and you have made a lifelong memory. We can’t wait to see you in Cappadocia.
Many visitors think Cappadocia is a city and are surprised to find out that it is actually a large region touching 5 Turkish provinces.
In fact the central area of Cappadocia is made up of small towns spread out around the various hills and valleys that make the region so beautiful. In this post we want to give an introduction to 10 towns which will hopefully allow you to better plan your time.
1. Uçhisar – Sitting near the highest point of central Cappadocia, this ancient fortress town is impossible to miss and offers amazing views. Named after its landmark rock tower/castle, the town offers excellent shopping opportunities as well as a number of delicious restaurants of which we recommend the House of Memories, Seki, Şira and Elai. If the weather is nice, you will definitely want to pay the 8TL to climb to the top of the hisar and get a unique view of the area. This is also the best place to enter the inviting Pigeon Valley and hike all the way to Göreme if you wish.
Interesting note: The Turkish word “Uç” means tip as in the “tip of your tongue”. People often confuse this with “Üç” (three) and think it means that this represents the 3rd tower or that there are 3 towers. But the actual idea is that this tower is on the tip of the region as opposed to our next town…]
2. Ortahisar – “Orta” means middle indicating that this is the middle hisar (if you can find the third hisar, let us know), or at least it was known as such when the defense of the region through the hisar system was important. Unfortunately, this hisar needs to be renovated and is not open for tourist ascension. In spite of that, you will enjoy this quaint village with its valley views, shops, and constant supply of old men hanging out in the city center. This town is also known locally for the best barbers in the region. For those of you looking to get an old-fashioned shave, take advantage when you visit. If you are there around lunch time, go a bit off the town square to Seten Pide and order a couple of delicious pides (similar to pizza but Turkish style).
3. İbrahimpaşa – But on the road between Uçhisar and Ortahisar we skipped 19th century Ibrahimpaşa. 2 kilometers off the main Nevşehir – Ürgüp road you will find this village that seems stuck in the past. If you feel like the rest of Cappadocia is too touristy, Ibrahimpaşa is the place to spend a few hours. Even though it is barely more than a stone’s throw from the main tourist attractions, this valley straddling village is relatively untouched (and unvisited) by the many foreigners who traipse through the region. If you can get someone to drop you off, you can enjoy a wonderful hike down the valley to Ortahisar. Transportation is difficult to arrange, but worth it for this half day of fun. And if you are looking for a special dinner, we recommend the Babayan Village House. The set menu is homegrown, homemade, and delicious at a reasonable price. Be sure to have your boutique hotel make reservations and help you with transportation.
4. Ürgüp – Keep going down the road and you will end up in the most developed town of the area. Ürgüp’s broad town square is surrounded by unique shops, restaurants, and wine-tasting houses. You can stroll around and sample the delicious dried fruits and nuts, check out the Ebru Art, price beautiful Turkish carpets and rugs, and enjoy tasting the many different local wines. If you stop by on a Saturday, be sure to stroll through the expansive open air market (Turkish: Pazar).
For restaurants we recommend Ziggy’s which is about halfway up the hill towards the Turasan winery.
5. Mustafapaşa – About 15 minutes from Ürgüp you will find this Greek village formerly known as Sinasos. In 1923-24 the powers that be ordered a population exchange forcing all the Greeks (actually it was Christians but most non-Armenian Christians were Greeks even though they spoke only Turkish) in Turkey to move to Greece and replacing them with Greek-speaking Turks (Muslims) from Greece. In Mustafapaşa the Greek buildings were preserved and can be viewed today. You also can enjoy a nice dinner at the Old Greek House.
6. Avanos – Over the hill, on the Kızılırmak (Red River) you will find a quaint town known for the pottery made from the red clay along its river banks. With a population of around 14,000, Avanos is full of shops and restaurants as well as a nice riverwalk area with lots of grass and trees. The main draw, however, is the plethora of pottery shops, each with its own master working the wheel. Be sure to observe a free demonstration and even try your hand at “throwing” a pot. If you want to catch a meal we recommend Mado along the river, Lale Pide & Kebab in the center of town, or Bizim Ev closer to the bridge. And if you are there on a Friday, take a stroll through the open air market.
7. Çavuşin – Halfway between Avanos and Göreme this village sits with its magnificent upper church ampitheater that dates to the 4th century. This also marks the opening to the trails for Rose and Red Valley and is just around the corner from Paşabağ, which boasts some of the best Fairy Chimneys in the region.
Fairy Chimneys at Paşabağ near Çavuşin
8. Göreme – A few clicks further finds you in one of the most unique villages in the world. Göreme is situated among a host of fairy chimneys and pockmarked hillsides and leads to Pigeon Valley in one direction and Zemi Valley in another. The famous Open Air Museum is on the outskirts of town and this is the place to rent your scooter or ATV for touring the area. All the shopping options available in the region are present in Göreme including carpets, ceramics, gifts, and handicrafts. Regarding restaurants we recommend the Manzara with its amazing view, Dibek with local dishes includin “Testi Kebab”, Seten Restaurant, Fat Boys (Australian Turkish mix), The Evil Eye Korean Food, and Mydonose for a cup of coffee.
9. Gulşehir – If you have transportation, taking a short trip down the river to this seldom visited but very friendly town is a good option. With St. Jean’s astounding cave church, the Mantar Kaya (mushroom shaped boulder), and the refurbished Greek church you can easily spend a couple of hours enjoying the hospitality of this town. A fun experience is getting the key to the Greek church from the neighborhood leader across the street and looking around the church on your own.
10. Guzelyurt/Ihlara Valley – Another option for a day trip if you have your own transportation is this breathtaking area located a bit over an hour from Uçhisar. With Gaziemir underground city (more like a large monastery or caravanserai), Yuksek Church, the Red Church, Monastery Valley, and the all that Ihlara Valley offers, you can easily spend a day hiking, ooohing and aaahing.
And with all of these we have not mentioned Hacıbektaş, Nevşehir, Özkonak, and Kozaklı. You probably need to add a few days or start planning your second trip to Cappadocia.
Once you visit be sure to return and let us know which town was your favorite.