Cappadocia: Land of Fairy Chimneys
Cappadocia is an ancient name for a region in Central Anatolia of Turkey. Now it popularly refers to valleys between Goreme, Urgup and Uchisar towns. The region runs through the historic Silk Road trading route and is famous among traveler for its natural fairy chimneys and hidden rock churches. Cappadocia’s landscape is amazing, makes you feel like you are on another planet.
I was in Goreme during dead winter of January which was freezing with a bit snow at nights and shorter daylight. The good thing is winter means less tourist, cheaper accommodation, and attractions that almost for yourself.
This laid back small town is increasingly popular among independent travelers because it’s close to main attractions and has quite complete facilities such as atms, hotels, cafés and bars, and tour operators.
The fastest way to get to Goreme is by plane from Istanbul or Ankara that will arrive in Nevsehir Airport, about 35 minutes northwest Goreme, though it is quite expensive. Otherwise, there are many overnight busses run from both major cities of the north or from Denizli of the west that stopped right in the center of the town. I did the Denizli route and arrived early morning in Goreme.
Cappadocia offers plenty outdoor activities, from walking through the valleys of fairy chimneys, going down into the underground cities, taking hot balloon ride above the amazing landscape, or if you just want to enjoy museum, all of that is outdoors.
Goreme Open Air Museum
It is indeed a museum in the open air.
Only 15 minutes walking from the very center of Goreme, the museum offers view of fantastic monastery complex carved inside rocks which dated back to period between 10th and 12th century. It has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage since 1984 and becomes one of Cappadocia’s major tourism magnets.
Inside the museum, you can see finest rock-cut churches with beautiful fresco (wall painting) that the colors are still as bright as it was painted yesterday. There are many churches in this complex but some famous ones are The Nunnery, St. Barbara Church, Apple (Elmali) Church, and Snake (Yilanli) Church.
Once you are finish exploring main complex of the museum, swing by the Buckle (Tokali) Church whose entrance is just 50 meters from the museum. It is accessible with the same ticket you used for the museum. Among Cappadocia’s rock churches, Tokali Churches has been known to have the best fresco church telling about the life of Christ. I went to the museum early morning in order to beat the crowd and spent half day in there, cannot imagine how was life inside the monastery during its inhabitable time.
Hot Balloon Ride
Cappadocia is one of the best places in the world to ride hot balloon.
I was not so sure about that until I did it myself.
Vast land dotted by nature-made fairy chimneys, rock columns with pointy tips sculpted by centuries of wind and rain, is the view you get once the balloon take off. In my case, the fairy chimneys were covered by thin snow from the night before, adding the mysterious atmosphere of the land when you see it from above. It is a surreal view.
Most hot balloon takes off before sunrise to catch the best view of Cappadocia. The balloon floats low along valleys to give closer view of chimneys and cave houses inhabited by locals. But it also flies high enough for you to see bigger picture of Cappadocia landscape, including the highest point Uchisar Castle in southwest Goreme.
You can book the ride online or walk in to tour companies in Goreme a day before. Tour driver will pick you up at your lodging and drive you to the field an hour before take-off. An average size balloon can accommodate up to 20 people for an hour and half flight.
Caution: not for fainted hearts.
Under vast and barren land of Cappadocia, lays interconnected underground cities dated back at least to the early Byzantine era. The cities, carved from pliable volcanic ash rock, were used by locals as safe heavens from invaders and could house up to 100,000 people. Construction of the cities is quite amazing considering the era in which it was built. For instance, it has fresh water system, security system, integrated air circulation, wine cellars and stables, crucifying chambers for captured enemies and area to keep the dead until condition on the surface are safe enough for proper disposal.
Kaymakli, the widest underground city, is 8 floors construction (only 4 are opened) and could house up to 3.500 people. Derinkuyu, the deepest underground city, is 85m deep and could accommodate up to 20,000 people in its 11 floors, though only 8 floors are opened for visitors.
Going into the underground cities is indeed not for fainted hearts. If you are claustrophobic, DO NOT GO!
Even if you are not, take it easy at the beginning and control your breath because it is easy to feel overwhelm and claustrophobic once you are inside small corridors and are about 20m under. I went inside Derinkuyu with a group of 8, 1 was a bubbly little girl. On the second floor, some of us started to feel short breath, the little girl who were bouncing non-stop at the beginning, started to whimper. After sometimes, her parent calmed her and we could go down to the 8th level.
Although some cautions must be considered, all effort is worth your while once you are inside. I was mostly amazed by how fine the cut on the rock made by people centuries ago without help of modern tools and how efficient the construction is. You might be 85m under, but you would not short of oxygen at all.
There is always day trip tour departed from Goreme to Derinkuyu or Kaymakli. Usually, the tour is combined with visiting other attractions such as Goreme Panorama, Ilhara Valley and Selime Monastry.
Sleeping in a Cave
Yes, you hear me right. Staying in Cappadocia means sleeping in a cave.
If you think staying in cave lodging is only for big spenders, it is not the case in Cappadocia. Most lodging in the area, from budget hostel to luxury hotel, is built into the rock. Some of these cave accommodations were local houses before turned into hotels when tourists started flowing into the region few years ago.
Sleeping in a cave house is quite an experience. Looking from the outside, you will see modest rock structures with doors and windows. Once inside, the facilities are no less than hotel.
I stayed in a double room of a cave hotel located just few meters from the center of Goreme. My room had a queen size bed and spacious bathroom with hot shower. Natural rock keeps room temperature stable even during harsh winter of January.
The hotel has an open-air lounge and pool looking down Goreme. From the lounge, you can enjoy beautiful sunrise or sunset over Goreme with tens, if not hundreds, hot balloons flying in the sky.