Guiding you from the caves to the skies of Cappadocia
Ever wanted to go Flintstone's style and live in a cave? Well here's your chance try it; minus any dinosaurs and in relative comfort mind you. In the region of Turkey, famous for its rock formations and balloon rides, there is something unique to go see here.
With Turkey looking to reopen its borders again in the coming months, I thought it would be good to share my experience, as I can't imagine it not being on a travellers bucket list! I did visit Cappadocia before I started blogging, so this is a #laterblog if you like, some details may have changed since and my photography leaves a bit more to be desired! BUT, I have the tips and details to help plan a short getaway.
Getting to Cappadocia is not the quickest journey I forewarn, but it is so worth it in the end. It is 454 miles (730km) from Istanbul so an internal flight is your easiest and cheapest way to get here. We did travel to here pre-Covid for my dad's 65th birthday, it was the last family trip we managed to sneak in over a long weekend. Please check local government guidelines on travelling here before you book.
You can choose to either go from Istanbul to Nevşehir or Kayseri. Now, the former may seem closer but when we travelled there was only one flight a day, so if it was cancelled or missed for any reason there'd be trouble. For this reason we picked Kayseri, then booked a transfer directly with the hotel which was easily arranged.
We of course stayed in a cave hotel, I mean you can't visit Cappadocia and opt for a regular hotel, that would defeat the purpose. There are so many to choose from so you will be spoilt for choice. I used booking.com as always, but would point out that when looking, the cave hotels do not have a star rating so don't filter by this. We stayed at Canyon View Hotel, this has since been re-named to Tulip Cave Suites as I believe the owners have changed and it has seen a slight renovation. It however still has amazing reviews so still seems like a great place to stay. Be warned though there are A LOT of stairs here and the hotel sits on an incline. I would recommend booking your cave hotel in the Göreme region for ease to get around and you're within walking distance to the town from the hotels. Göreme town is really something different to just walk around in and soak up. I think my biggest regret was not having that one extra day to do this.
We visited in May over the bank holiday weekend so the weather was a little hit and miss. Still a bit windy, grey and it rained a bit too, but if it was hot it was very nice and warm. We did have 3 full days here before our flight back to London and had a few things we wanted to see and do which were pre-booked. The rest we decided once we got there and our hotel helped to arrange them.
We started out the day with a tour booked that is referred to as the 'green tour' locally, this was a full day out and covered several different sites and lunch was included in Belisırma. This tour is popular and one that we had pre-booked.
We started at Göreme Panorama, giving amazing panoramic views over the valley and the rocky landscape. As you travel around you will spot the differences between each valley, its like they have their own type of landscape. Another iconic one covered was Pigeon Valley - you see why it gets this name when you see the number of feathered friends that live here!
I personally found this tour great, as it included a few places that are a little further out, approx. 80-90km from Göreme. The first was a hike through Ihlara Vadisi after climbing the stairwell down, its a simple route following the stream. We also stopped at the tea café; Diker Aile Çay Bahçesi for a short break and refreshment top up - apple tea is highly recommended. You will also find a much needed toilet here - which is clean, before you continue the rest of your hike. Lunch was included as part of the tour and we stopped in Belisırma at the end of the hike. These tea café's and restaurants are dotted along the Melendiz Stream so the setting is nicely picturesque and real cosy.
After lunch there was a visit to the Derinkuyu Underground City (1 of 36 underground cities), we could enter here to explore. There are several exits once you are in, so if you find that its getting a little claustrophobic for you there is the option to leave. As you descend further, the passage gets narrower and smaller so it may not be for everyone. You may opt out and explore outside if you wish, there are shops and stalls in the area. Inside the underground city it was a little musty and of course dark but a great experience.
The final leg of the tour before returning to the hotel was Selime Monastery. As with the rest of the region you will find a rocky landscape which will now look familiar to the region. If you plan to go into the monastery, make sure your balancing skills are good and you are wearing appropriate footwear (i.e. no flip flops). There is a bit of a climb up and its uneven terrain across the rocky surface to get there. We were lucky that we had just finished before the heavens opened.
The hotel staff on the previous day had recommended the Turkish Night for the evening, which they helped to book. It meant dinner was sorted and we didn't need to venture out to find somewhere. I must say it was one of the best decisions we had made - not something we had even thought of before leaving London. We were given our own sectioned table with an array of mezze to start, this we could ask for a top up if we liked and a main course option was given to pick from. The night was filled with so much traditional music and dance along with the food, it was memorable and worth every Lira. All drinks - soft and alcoholic were also included, it was safe to say the night got a bit messy. We still blame the Raki bottle - which we snuck out at at the end of the night to continue the shots. A mistake that would cause havoc the next morning...
It's 4.30am and we are being picked up for our hot air balloon ride. See why that Raki (mixed with wine) was a mistake now? It actually caused my brother to miss the flight! The morning was a bit cold and grey, it didn't help that we were still feeling rough. They offer breakfast while the balloons are being set up but none of us were really able to actually eat. We were lucky the flight took off as it had been cancelled the previous day.
We had booked our balloon flight with Maccan (now known as Turquaz Balloons). It just happened to be that at the time Seyit; who owned the hotel we stayed at was also a pilot for the company so we booked through him. I would strongly advise to book the flight you want well in advance, these sell out very quickly and is the most popular activity in Cappadocia. Don't be under the impression that so many balloons fly daily so you will find a spot, you won't. Especially if they have had a cancellation in any preceding days due to high winds or rain. We booked months ahead to secure ours. The flights are expensive, per person you will be looking to pay some £80-£120 pounds. Don't go for the cheapest, these companies tend to fill baskets with so many people that there is little room to move and it doesn't look safe, the flight times are also shorter. A decent flight time is 1 hr and 16 people at most in the basket.
The flight itself was the most amazing thing. It is not comparable to anything else I had ever done - I know I have mentioned a balloon flight in my Jordan blog, but that was my second and I would love to experience this in as many places I can. The terrain makes this unforgettable, as the landscape is something different to be admired from here. Not to mention the other balloons floating around you as you pass by the giant rock structures.
After we'd got back we had a jeep safari booked with a slightly later pick up. With skies a little gloomy this day we were given a slightly different vehicle for comfort which we were much happier with.
We ticked off several landmarks and valley's including Rose Valley and Love Valley - each with their own slightly different rock formations before venturing towards the Andrew Rogers Freaky Rock Figures. Now they are not freaky as the name suggests, they are more inspirational pillars with words carved within. Unlike anything else you'll see here, these can be found in the hills of Avanos, on Nevşehir road. There are several other large sculptures up here too, which cover a vast amount of ground if you would like to see them. The shapes are more apparent from a distance, but up close they look like bricked walls.
By the time we had finished from here we were getting closer to sunset time, so we had a quick stop first near Ortahisar Castle (Ortahisar Panorama). There was a lovely café at a great view point here; Ethem Usta'nın Yeri Seyir Tepesi that served one of the best apple tea's we had and freshly brewed Turkish coffee. Even if you don't go to see the castle you can get a real good view from here. We didn't stay and headed to Uçhisar Castle instead. Near the castle we saw a beautiful sunset, but as we arrived shortly before closing time we didn't have too much time to spend inside. The day wrapped up here before we headed back to the hotel and out into Göreme for dinner.
Although we had a later start today with elements of the 'Red Tour' that Seyit was going to take us to see, we still decided to wake up early to catch the balloons as they flew over the town. That spectacular view is something else to witness just as the sun is rising. It was a nice clear morning too - lucky for those on the flight as they would catch a great sunrise, and my brother was one of those after the previous morning's mishap.
After breakfast we headed for some free time at the Zelve Açık Hava Müzesi (Zelve Open Air Museum). This is a very popular tourist attraction and is a short walk from Göreme centre, its located between Ürgüp and Avanos. The area consists of several Byzantine-era monasteries that have been carved into the rocks, and frescos are still well preserved here (strictly no photo policy on these unfortunately). These have been declared as a UNESCO heritage site and you are able to venture into the churches to see them.
After spending some time here we re-grouped and headed out first to Devrent Valley (aka Imagination Valley). The reason is has this name is because the rock formations are so unique, that if you use your imagination they may resemble something. The most popular feature is the 'turkey' which some also see as a camel - what do you think it looks like?
Not too far from here you will find Paşabağları - the Fairy Chimneys, which is also referred to as Paşabağ. Originally this was called Valley of the Monks, as some of these used to be churches or places where people lived. You may even find carvings on some of the chimneys. Paşabağ has the best looking Fairy Chimneys in the region. The rock formations of Cappadocia were formed millions of years ago following geological activity from 3 nearby mountains. The ash and lava from Mount Erciyes (Argeus), Mount Hasan and Mount Güllü eroded over time and formed a layer of tuff rock. Contrary to its name, tuff is a relatively soft, porous rock. Tuff, combined with a layers of basalt, wind and rain erosion over time gives us the unique structures we see today.
Chez Galip was our final stop before heading back to Göreme. A few of us enjoyed a bit of thrown pottery making after being given a demo here. They also have an extensive showroom from which you can buy their handcrafted goods. We kick started our shopping here and continued it into Göreme town.
As this was our last day here we wanted to finish up with more traditional food. We had been looking forward to trying clay pot chicken and were recommended a local restaurant. This would be a must try dish if you visit here, it was exceptional! We did have to wrap up dinner early and head back as we had the joy of packing for travel back the next day.
Tips, recommendations and general info:
Currency: Turkish Lira, although they may also accept Euro and USD in some places.
Local Languages: Turkish, with Kurdish minority but most speak and understand English.
Religion: Islam with a Christian minority.
Travel visa: These are required and costs vary depending where you are travelling from. They must also be obtained prior to arrival and can be applied for online really easily. When we travelled we had to apply for eVisa's, but this rule was recently changed and British Citizens travelling for tourist or business purposes are able to go without a visa for visits of up to 90 days in any 180-day period. If you will be staying longer than 90 days you should apply for a longer stay visa prior to travelling. Also please be aware that these rules can change again following Brexit and in light of Covid. It's best to stay updated with the latest from the Government website.
Tourist Pass: You are able to buy a pass for some of the activities or even try to tailor these ahead of arriving here. There are several options available online. These can be cost effective if you are hiring a car and the passes will work out slightly cheaper per person than booking individual tours.
Hot air balloon: We flew with Maccan, now known as Turquaz Balloons, however there are other reputable companies operating too. Source the best for your party - your hotel can help too and book in advance of your travel.
Money: Always carry a bit of cash as many of the smaller shops or street vendors do not all take card.
Shopping: Some places will try to sell you items at inflated prices, check across shops before you buy. Likewise with jewellery, Turkey is known for Zultanite featured items, make sure the seller is reputed before you buy and the stone is not lab created.
If you are not travelling with a tour group and are doing this yourself, I find booking.com the best way to manage the accommodation. The hotel I refer to can be found here among plenty of others depending on how many of you are going. The app provides an easy to follow timeline and you don't need papers at check-in.
Must try cuisines: Clay pot chicken, mezze, proper Turkish kebab, fresh baklava
Fizz: Raki - in moderation!
Beverages: TEA! You must try this. Apple tea was my favourite by the time we left, but I also had tried pomegranate and orange. I was extremely surprised how much I liked the apple, I even brought some back.
Don't forget to check out the photo's within Travel Snapshots, they are not as great as my 'proper' ones, but they give a nice idea what you will find here in Cappadocia.
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