Being a traveler in Türkiye’s unrivaled, eccentric landforms and unforgettable sunsets is one of the most intimate and intense natural experiences one can have in a lifetime. As seasons fluctuate, Cappadocia parades its unique personality with each change of wardrobe – displaying its enchantment as a place where history walks hand in hand with Mother Nature.
Cappadocia… A dream of a land, gracefully sparkling in its texture: extraordinary natural settings, mesmerizing vistas from dusk till dawn, wonderous ancient designs carved into the soft rocks, colored balloons greeting fairy chimneys – the natural rock formations – with every pass, and the allure of history taking guests through a journey in time. The sublime story of this land dates back millions of years, to the eruption of the two volcanic mountains of Central Anatolia, the Erciyes and Hasan. The tuff and basalt layering throughout the region was then formed by the wind – hot and cold air, turning the amorphous into the mythic fairy chimneys for miles and miles. As the natural formation completed, humans began to show their faces, adding migrations, invasions and conquering to this storied history. First, it was Christians who fled oppression and violence and made the fairy chimneys their home. After settling, they carved their churches into these very rocks. They engineered complete underground cities, with ventilated living areas and expansive imagination. Today, these ancient structures seek your permission to take you on a magical journey in both time and wonder. Are you ready for the extraordinary?
Panoramic view of a fairy tale
Imagine a gigantic, imposing rock stretching towards the sky, and you’re standing at its summit. If you’re not a plane, a balloon or a hawk, your loftiest view of the land would most likely be from here, the Uçhisar Castle. Along with such spectacle, Uçhisar also has one of the most beautiful walking paths in Cappadocia, forging right through Pigeon Valley. You can wander through the tunnels carved over history by the river’s mighty flow while hearing pigeons flap their wings as they leave their nests and soar past giant formations in the valley of awe. Uçhisar was established around the castle as a small village and has grown over time to include the downward slopes. Some claim there were once underground roads, kilometers long, that ran from Uçhisar Castle to the Ihlara Valley beyond, adding even more to this unique history. Today, the castle is surrounded by shops and stalls, selling many souvenirs such as carpets, marble ornaments, mirrors and, of course, flavorsome dried nuts and fruits for your indulgence.
The address for the wanderlust
Continuing the mesmerizing discoveries, we arrive at Göreme. Positioned in the center of the region, this scenic town remains calm despite the crowds of visitors that converge. The churning wind and nurturing rainfall over millennia have created the beauty that the town is known for. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, Göreme casts its enigmatic charm for miles. The churches carved into these soft rocks – and especially the many underground cities such as Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı – sit in stillness with their mysteries intact. These captivating sanctuary interiors depict the Messiah’s life through detailed frescoes alongside painted ornaments continued to this day. One of the most important structures of the Göreme Open Air Museum is, without a doubt, the Dark Church. What makes this relic stand out is none other than its lively frescoes. Dating back to the end of the 11th century and the beginning of the 12th, its name derives from the very little light it receives from a small window in the narthex section. The lack of light has allowed this church to keep its treasures alive, however, letting the frescoes resist the ruthless nature of time itself. Both the church and narthex carry vibrant and impressive depictions from the Bible. It’s no wonder this church tops the lists of travelers to the region…
Conquering the scenery from up above
As dawn breaks, you can choose to float in the air with great calmness – taking part in the acclaimed hot air balloon adventures. Rock formations dating back millions of years and unimaginable landforms unique to this geography lie beneath. Valleys below offer majestic sceneries from these high altitudes, painting a multi-hued topography – slopes weaved in velvety texture. The land of fairy chimneys has become the center for such renowned ballooning over the past 20 years, and the intoxicating morning aerial adventures have been attracting more and more travelers from all over the world. The balloons, which go up to 500 meters, depart from the trails around Göreme early in the morning. To book yourself one and soak in the alluring wonder from above, visit the companies located in Göreme.
A jewel box of a town
Moving east from Göreme, Ürgüp welcomes you to its ceaseless wonders. Aside from it being the largest settlement in Cappadocia, it’s also a magnificent source of immersive sights. Its size, history and grandeur combine for a truly unique experience: an Anatolian town bursting with hotels, restaurants, shops, and adjacent to these, mythic cave dwellings captured in time. The stone mansions built on these very rocks are distinct to this location. Besides such details found in every corner, Ürgüp is also the place to cut loose and shake your worries away – here you’ll find the best nightlife in Cappadocia!
Your trip would be amiss if you came all this way without trying the delicious Cappadocian wines. This region, holding a well-established winemaking tradition for thousands of years, owes its famous vineyards to the tuff formed by the volcanic activities that built this land. Anatolian grapes such as Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karası, Boğazkere, Narince and Emir grow graciously thanks to the rich tuff soil. It gets better! Cappadocia wineries are open for visitation all year long, making your trip possible in any season or at any given moment.
Once in Ürgüp, another stop you’ll want to make is Avanos, the cultural epicenter of Cappadocia. Its unusual livelihood is what makes this town so intriguing. As the Kızılırmak River has flowed patiently for eons through Avanos, the soft and oily clay sourced from the riverbeds has been the highlight here –making Avanos the home of a rich pottery tradition dating back to the Hittites. Each unique flaw in the clay brings out the authentic beauty in these handmade pieces, which are subsequently colored in earthy tones and, of course, turquoise. You can always join a pottery workshop and create your own “happy accident”, or maybe shop for goodies in lively bazaars and lighten your mood by the riverside.
While every spot here serves up the best dreamy sunset, one sets itself apart: Red Valley. Located just near Çavuşin Village and Ortahisar, Red Valley draws the most romantic and unforgettable moments as the sky takes on rich crimson red tones. Visitors are encouraged to start their walk through the rare formations the red tuff creates just before sunset, and take their place on the viewing terrace at just the right moment, soaking in all the glamour.
Here, Ortahisar Castle is thought to be one of the first multi-story settlements in the world, making it an architectural find to be sure. The structure, which provided shelter for the historical Silk Road caravans during the Hittite period, is actually a giant fairy chimney in disguise. Being one of the highest spots in the region today, visiting this castle guarantees a view to remember and a teleport back to ancient times.
A life engraved in volcanic ash
Your next destination may not radiate its allure from afar but once in, you’ll be in awe for sure. Çavuşin Village lies within minutes of Göreme. Once you’re in this seemingly ordinary locale, your path will take you among ancient ruins: stone buildings and fairy chimneys making their way to the village square. If you wish to further explore the ruins, just follow the tracks and you’ll find yourself in an area famous for its churches and clergy houses. You can access the oldest of these sanctuaries, built between the 1st and 10th centuries, along this path. Extending your walk half an hour, you can reach the churches in Güllüdere and Kızılçukur, though the most enticing site may be inviting you just near the cliff: Saint John the Baptist Church.
Consisting of three valleys, Zelve is most intense in terms of these fairy chimneys. If you want to examine the full beauty of nature, you should start trekking early in the morning. The important churches in the valley are Balıklı, Üzümlü and Geyikli, all hauntingly captivating, illustrating the ancient monastic life.
A boundless dip into the olden days
If you wish to travel beyond time and explore a world you’ve never imagined, Ihlara Valley is the place you’re looking for. It’s known that the 14-kilometer valley has been an important religious center since the early days of Christianity, shining a light on the numerous worship houses and historical living spaces scattered all around. Here, the frescoed churches formed by the geological features of the region are carved into the rocks in accordance with the spirit of the monastery. If you wish to discover the architecture and wander inside the magnificent designs, you’re in luck. 14 of these churches are open for exploration: the Ağaçaltı, Sümbüllü, Yılanlı, Kokar, Prenliseki, Eğritaş, Direkli, Saint George, Karagedik, Ala, Bezirhane, Bahattin Samanlığı and Batkın Churches. After descending a 382-step ladder, better gear up for your valley walk that can take up to four hours. Don’t let the timing discourage you though: gazebos built on the Melendiz Stream will welcome you for breaks and to rinse your journey down with a cup of tea.
As humans in a vast universe, we sometimes lament that our very own world has become way too familiar; we wonder what else is out there. Nonetheless, even though we get caught in those daily routines, there still lies jewels just waiting to be discovered – precious moments to hold on to. Cappadocia is one of those places allowing you to leave your cares for a while. Given the chance, these lands won’t disappoint.