Lying in south central Turkey, ‘moonscaped’ region of Cappadocia, southeast of Ankara, is very famous for its unique geological features called fairy chimneys. Ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed this region with thick ash, which solidified into a soft rock—called tuff—tens of meters thick. Wind and water went to work on this plateau, leaving only its harder elements behind to form a fairy tale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms, and chimneys, which stretch as far as 130 feet (40 meters) into the sky.
But human hands performed equally incredible works here. The rocky wonderland is honeycombed with a network of human-created caves; living quarters, places of worship, stables, and storehouses were all dug into the soft stone. In fact, tunnel complexes formed entire towns with as many as eight different stories hidden underground.
One of the main attractions of the area is taking a hot air balloon ride. Once you arrive to Cappadocia, you will see dozens of other balloons flying around you in the skies. The first hover is Love Valley, which is named so because the peaks are phallic.
The second hover is the Red Valley, with the Mount Erciyes – the highest one in Central Anatolia. You will fly among the fig trees, apples and apricots, admiring the fairy chimneys of different width and height, while the youngest one is just a million years old. Back in 300 BC all of this area was inhabited by hermits, people who wanted to live in solitude and do good for the rest.
The air balloon trip will bring you up and down the hills and valleys, around volcanoes and ancient tales. Once you land be ready for the glass of champagne and a homemade cake.
If you take one of the tour guides, it will bring you to Kaymakli – one of Cappadocia’s many underground cities. The first inhabitants of the area were hunter-gathers, which used the caves for protection against wild animals. During invasions they started to serve as shelters. You will be amazed by their size and depth though: Kaymakli could fit over 20, 000 inhabitants. The atmosphere while standing in one of these rooms is amazing – just imagine people living underground, worshiping here, fighting and dying here.
Once you get hungry, hurry up to one of the best places for lunch – Kadin Girisimciler Restaurant, which is run by a women’s cooperatives, so many of the staff are single mothers. One of the best dishes is Turkish ravioli – dolma manti. Have a taste of homemade Ayran, which is like a yogurt drink and take a bite of icli kofte (ground meat fried in bulger).
The next stop should be the Goreme Open Air Museum – a cluster of rock cut churches and rooms, hand painted and decorated with frescoes, dating back to the 10th century.
In spite of the fact that Cappadocia becomes very popular among tourists, it still remains very authentic. Walking along the streets of Ortahisar you will see plenty of kebab shops and roadside fishmongers. Those hunting for luxury, can finish their day in the steaming bath in the new House Hotel, which is a complex of ancient caves and houses, turned into sumptuous sites.
Whether you’re wooed here by the hiking potential, the history or the bragging rights of becoming a modern troglodyte for a night, it’s the lunarscape panoramas that you’ll remember. This region’s accordion-ridged valleys, shaded in a palette of dusky orange and cream, are an epiphany of a landscape – the stuff of psychedelic daydreams.