I had just arrived in Turkey when I decided to travel to Cappadocia for a few days. I saw tours from Istanbul organising a visit in one day*, but this is tough, and the region is worth spending more time, a full weekend at least. There is enough to do to spend a week there, but it may become repetitive so I chose to spend three days in Cappadocia to then go to Mount Nemrut for the rest of my week off.
Cappadocia region is very singular, and I still have never seen anything comparable to its unusual landscape(1).
I have translated the article I wrote when I travelled there in August 2010.
The fairy chimneys of Cappadocia
Where does the fairy chimneys come from?
The rocks in Cappadocia were formed after some volcanic eruptions 2 million years ago. The wind and the erosion gave them their current funny shapes that created a very one of a kind landscape. They are named “fairy chimneys”. As volcanic rocks are easy to dig, inhabitants of the area used it to create their homes and places of worship.
I stayed in Goreme, a very touristy yet charming town in the heart of the region. I highly recommend trying a night in a cave hotel there; it is quite unusual and very aligned with all you will visit during the trip.
As Goreme is central, it was a good start to visit the area, and there were also some activities easy to reach without requiring to organise transport or to join a tour. However, to fully enjoy Cappadocia, you will need to hire a car or join a group. For those on a very restricted budget who like hiking, have a look at this blog post for an itinerary Cappadocia as an independent traveller.
One of the hikes is Goreme open air museum. It is a protected Valley with around 15 churches that were dug into the rock and decorated with frescoes in the 10th and 11th century. It’s easy to reach and worth visiting.
Balloon flight over the Valley
One of the most popular attractions in Cappadocia is to do a balloon flight at sunrise to see the funny landscape from above. The photo of the valley full of balloons rising with the sun often represents Cappadocia on the tourist brochures. It’s one of the reasons why Cappadocia is sometimes considered as the most magical place on Earth.
I did not try it as it was too expensive for my student budget. Although the experience isn’t comparable, there are lookouts to see the valleys from higher (Uchisar Castle would be one of them). View balloon rides here*
Two guided tours of one day each to explore Cappadocia
You’ll find a few Cappadocia tours that you can book online here*. Alternatively, you can also book one at your hotel directly.
Soganli Valley tour
The first trip was perfect: we were a tiny group guided by two brothers who used to live in a troglodyte (dug into the rock) house. Their stories were fascinating; we could easily picture their life there. Although these houses are now rare because they can be dangerous, few of them are still inhabited.
We had time to walk in the valley and enjoy fantastic views. We also visited two underground cities as well.
Ilhara Valley tour
I found this second trip not as good as the first one. I think the personal stories from the guides that I liked so much during the first tour were missing on the second visit. We still visited amazing places like a huge troglodyte cathedral and the river in the gorge was beautiful.
Ilhara is the biggest canyon in Cappadocia and Ilhara Valley is about one hour west of Goreme.
The underground cities of Cappadocia
Our guide explained to us that villages in Cappadocia were very surprising for visitors in the ancient time because they were not fortified at all to be able to defend themselves under attack. However, the inhabitants of Cappadocia were very well-organized with many underground cities. In my guidebook, they mentioned that we still ignore how many they had, but it was a significant number (“100, 200, more?”).
During our Soganli Valley tour, we could visit two underground cities. These visits were among the highlights of my trip. The feeling while down there was indescribable.
Mazi Underground City
The first one, Mazi, had six levels. The visit was an adventure: it is not a famous underground city for tourists. No electricity, a lot of flexibility required and even a bit of climbing skills to go from one level to another… it was an experience that can become a challenge for some of us! Although all rooms looked slightly all the same, I was very impressed by the organisation in these cities as rooms were all very well delimited and for a very particular purpose (kitchen, warehouse, cowshed, communication area with pipes…).
Derinkuyu underground city
The second one, Derinkuyu, was much more touristy and better equipped for a visit. The experience was nonetheless fascinating as it is the biggest underground city discovered today: 85m deep, 10,000 people could live there! Rooms were larger than in Mazi, and there was even a church!
Cappadocia specialties: potteries, onyx, and wine
Avanos is 8km away from Goreme. We visited a pottery factory there. The explanations of the shop manager were interesting, and it was fun to try to shape our pottery. Some of the potteries were close to art, gorgeous with very precise brushstrokes.
The pottery kebabs are the food specialty of Cappadocia. They fill the pottery with vegetables, meat, sauce, and spices, cover it and cook it. When ready to eat, we have to break the pottery. It was delicious!
They have onyx mines in Cappadocia, so we stopped at a local artisan who was making an onyx egg to show how he works with this stone. Jewels with onyx were very popular in the shops.
They say Turkey has been making wine for over four millenniums.
Anatolia is the biggest wine-producing region in the country, and Cappadocia is known to have some of the best wines. I did wine-tasting, but I have to admit I was not impressed at all. I did not like the red wines I tried, and although the white wines were not too bad, I did not find them special at all. You can learn more about Turkish wines on this website.
Planning a trip to Cappadocia? I stayed in a cave hotel in Goreme and really like the original experience. View hotels here*
Have you been to Cappadocia? How was it? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Cappadocia?
Cappadocia is a region in the middle of Turkey, in Central Anatolia. The easiest way to go there is by plane from Istanbul to Kayseri airport or Nevsehir airport. I chose to travel to Cappadocia overnight by bus for budget reasons. We left Istanbul at 10 pm and arrived in Goreme at 8.30 am.
Did you like this article about Cappadocia? Add this to your Pinterest board:
(1)I have been told Les Orgues d’Ille-sur-Têt in France has similar formations. From the photos, I still do not think it can be compared to the region of Cappadocia… But it may be a good tip for my French visitors!