Cappadocia (Kapadokya) is an architectural masterpiece in the semi-arid region of central Turkey. It is made famous by the hot air balloon industry capitalizing on the picturesque backdrop of cone-shaped rock formations known as ‘fairy chimneys.’ This rocky wonderland is only the surface. Honeycombed below is an inspiring network of man created caves. The complexities of the caves are unbelievably enormous-which include stables, churches, living quarters, and storage houses. 36 cavernous towns were built underground believed to have housed up to 10,000 people.
Göreme – one of Cappadocia’s main villages, which sits on the boundary between the ancient Greek and Persian rivals – dates back to1200BC. This unfortunate location explains underground cities attracting residents who desire to hide from the danger that could be. In the fourth century when Christians started to flee from Rome’s persecution they found refuge in the underground cities and built communities within their stonewalls. Byzantine-frescoed paintings in cave chapels dating back to this era are well-preserved to this day. You would think the entire city would be a museum, however, these ancient caves serve as private residences and unique hotels.
This area is famous for its fairy chimneys, the natural rock formations resulting from erosion. According to folk tales the old residents were fairies. In one of the three-headed chimneys there is a chapel dedicated to Saint Simeon, which you can climb to the top of its eternal cone.
The town of Avanos is the center for pottery and craft making since the Hittite period. You can witness-or in my case-take part in a demonstration by a potter in one of the many family run pottery shops. These are truly unique ceramics with ancient stories told in every piece. I am blessed to have a few prominent pieces to showcase in my house.
There are many cave hotels to choose from. Some boasting in luxury, like Argos with a pool built into one of its underground rooms, and CCR with its views and wine cellars. These boutique hotels come with amenities such as Hamams (Turkish Bath), modern bathrooms, high-speed Internet, and panoramic terraces with views of the valley.
Cappadocia is derived from the Hittite word Katpatuka, which means land of the beautiful horses. Exploring the unique landscape by horse is a great alternative to hiking. You can chose between a 2 or 4-hour trail ride through the valleys and mountains.
This famous way to see the dramatic landscape is one of my favorite experiences. A 4 am wake up call will lift you right up to a quick taxi ride to you balloon company of choice. Before the sun rises you board your balloon and settle in as you watch hundreds of other colorful hot air balloons become part of the sunrise backdrop, add the rock formations below to create the most spectacular photo. Rightly so, the balloon companies are strict on weather. If rain or high winds burden your trip, you will either be delayed or cancelled and fully refunded.
Called Hamam in Turkish, this custom has been present in Turkey for thousands of years. After changing into a loincloth you will be taken to a Sicakik-a hot room-to loosen your muscles. Then you are guided to the warm room of the bath where you lay on marble slabs. The bathing conductors, tellak-for men and natir-for women will scrub you down using Turkish soap and a special cloth that scrubs off old skin. Afterwards you are taken into the Sogukluk, or cold room, to dry off. You can choose to have a massage or relax with tea.
The Hamam of Ürgüp
Alaaddin Turkish Bath of Avanos
Meteris Turkish Bath of Nevşehir
Damat Ibrahimpaşa Hamam of Nevşehir
The ritual dance of the Sufi sec of Islam was created in Konya 700 years ago by the Persian poet Rumi. The dancers believe the act of repeatedly spinning allows them to forget their earthly body and move closer to God. Practitioners were dubbed the ‘whirling dervishes’ by early European travelers.
The show includes traditional costumes, belly dancers, and all-inclusive drink deals. There is also a performance of the traditional way a girl gets married in Turkey.
The local specialty is Pottery Kebab, which takes five hours to cook. The clay pot meal consists of a ceramic pot filled with meat, vegetables, and spices. It is then bread sealed and baked. When your waiter brings out the dish, sometimes still aflame, they will ceremoniously cut the top off your pot and serve you the boiling contents with a rice pilaf.
Cappadocia is located on a high plateau in the middle of Turkey, a region that is hot and dry in the summer and cold in the winters.
Take a direct 1.5 hour flight from Istanbul to Kayseri. You can also take an overnight bus from Istanbul, which takes around 11 hours.
This town is known for its giant rock castle with a view of the entire Göreme Valley. It hosts two of the best hotels Argos and CCR. There is a ceramic shop at the bottom of the castle next to a restaurant. I recommend you check out the ceramics downstairs.
A mixture of cave hotels, residents, and great restaurants occupy this town. I suggest you dine at Pumpkin with an empty stomach. A shop sells you the pumpkin lantern décor close by. The Open Air Museum is here in addition to ATV rentals and Hamams.
Stroll by here to see a sleepy village with two rock churches and a few hotels and restaurants with stunning views.
Come here to buy pottery. The countless potters have been using the clay of the Red River for thousands of years.
A 15-minute ride from Avanos, this town has a great underground city and an amazing church from the 8th century. The center of town near the bridge is lined with cave houses full of lively residents.
The Mantar Kaya, or Mushroom Rock, lives here as does the 800 year old St. Jean Cave Church full of paintings. Everyone I met in the town were friendly and extremely hospitable.
The town centers around a museum and cultural center dedicated to the 13th century spiritual leader, Ali-the founder of Alevism. The best time to go is mid-August when the town has their annual festival consisting of a weekend of music and dancing.
With the population nearing 100,000, this region has a different-less touristic feel from the rest of the region. Attractions include the İbrahim Paşa Mosque and Selçuklu fort.
This is a hidden gem of Cappadocia-untouched by the tourists of its neighboring towns. Walking down the stone streets make you feel as if you live in a Turkish village at the turn of the 20th century.
The caves in this town have been renovated as storage rooms for Turkey’s produce. The town is also known for its barbers, shops, and restaurants.
The most developed town besides Nevsehir-Urgup offers great food, carpet shopping, and wineries.