Turkey’s Cappadocia is a region rich in history and geographical features and there is plenty to see and discover on a visit to the Lunar Landscape.
The famous Cappadocia is situated on a plateau surrounded by lush valleys and rugged mountains, filled with hidden wonders and stone age constructions. Many ancient civilisations have taken refuge in the countless caves and some even chose to build their religious sanctuaries amongst the mushroom shaped fairy chimneys and geographical anomalies. There are enough sights, activities and Cappadocia tours to keep you busy for a week or two as least, from hiking through valleys to shopping in local markets and exploring abandoned Christian churches.
A Unique Museum
Goreme is the central town and transport hub of Cappadocia, and just 3 km from the centre of the town is the Goreme Open Air Museum. Officially a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the museum is home to the most rock-hewn churches in the entire Cappadocia region and within their stone walls are original frescoes. Many have been worn by time and weather but the artworks inside of Dark Church and Apple Church are still vibrant. A visit to this unique museum should definitely be top of anyone’s Cappadocia itinerary.
Go Horse Riding
Explore Cappadocia on horseback just as the armies of Alexander the Great and traveling Silk Road tradesmen did hundreds of years before. While the horses used in the region are no longer the same beautiful Turkmenistani breed, you can instead ride through the vast valleys and traverse steep slopes on the back of strong Arabic horses. Excursions can last anything from 2 hours to a week visiting traditional villages, staying in family run guesthouses and discovering Seljuk caravanserais. Traveling by horseback in ‘The Land of Beautiful Horses’ is certain to transport you back to a bygone era.
Pick up Some Pottery
The central region of Cappadocia is made up of a series of small towns and villages many of which have retained their old traditions, like the pottery town of Avanos. Here, among the quaint streets, you can browse large displays of handmade pottery and stop to watch craftsmen making clay jugs and pots in their open workshops. The clay comes from stores which lay beneath the water of Red River which flows alongside the town. Avanos also hosts a lively farmers market and several souvenir stores and local restaurants.
So far 36 abandoned cave cities have been found below the earth in the Cappadocia region. It is not clear when exactly these warrens of tunnels were built but historians believe it was the Hittite settlers who began excavations over 2,000 years ago. These underground cities were not basic hideouts nor were they used as dungeons or prisons, instead they were fully functional cities for wealthy occupants. The hidden cities hosted, schools and churches, cooking and sleeping quarters, horse stables and even wine cellars. The largest of the cave cities are Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, open to tourists since 1964, you can spend a few hours exploring and climbing down rocky stone ladders and staircases.
Stay in a Cave
Feel like a flintstone and spend your stay in Cappadocia sleeping within stone walls of volcanic tuff. While the original troglodyte cave homes were rough and basic, local homeowners have converted many of these stone age caves into comfortable Cave hotels, with modern facilities (including WiFi!) and natural air conditioning during the hot Turkish summer. There are plenty of accommodations to choose from, from budget hostels in Goreme to luxury spa retreats in Uchisar and Urgup.
Taste Anatolian Foods
Central Anatolia is a large producer of grain therefore regional foods typically include bulgur, a cracked wheat similar to rice, cooked with vegetables and spices. Another tasty local dish is Tarhana soup, made from a dried mix of flour, veggies and fermented yogurt but a specialty is to Cappadocia is Testi Kebab (Pottery Kebab) and it’s worth making a day trip to Avanos to taste this particular dish. Testi Kebab is usually beef, lamb or chicken combined with veggies in a tomato sauce inside a clay pot, sealed with bread dough and slow cooked on an open fire. At traditional restaurants you will have to place your order a few hours before you plan to eat and the stew like dish will be served piping hot from the clay pot.
Take a Walk
The hills and valleys of Cappadocia are littered with a spider’s web of easy to difficult hiking trails. One of the easiest runs from the edge of Goreme to through fairy chimneys and dovecotes in Pigeons Valley to the hilltop castle in Uchisar, the highest point in Cappadocia with sweeping panoramic views. A tougher trail passes from Ihlara Village, down slippery stone steps to the base of the valley where you follow the Melendiz river for 14 km, past rock-cut churches, the formerly Greek village of Bellissima and under pistachio trees to the grand Selime monastery/Caravanserai.
Fly Over the Moonscape
The final thing you should do before leaving Cappadocia is take a flight over Red and Rose Valley, soar over Uchisar Castle and float above the Open Air Museum in the basket of a hot air balloon. This fantastic adventure is what many people travel to Cappadocia for. In the early hours of the morning, as the sky is turning from deep blue to amber, pilots prep their balloons and as the sun is rising several brightly coloured balls take to the sky, hovering in the air above the magical Lunar Landscape.
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