Last week I finally managed to visit beautiful Cappadocia – a place that has been in my top 5 destinations to visit this year!
At the beginning of each year, I make a list of destinations that I want to visit, and since I didn’t manage to travel to Cappadocia in 2019, I made sure that it is one of my first trips for 2020!
I got invited by the Turkish Travel Board to go visit beautiful Cappadocia and Istanbul, and that was just the perfect invite with the perfect timing.
About the region
Cappadocia is a unique place in so many ways, and I was already aware of its beauty, but I have to tell you that what you see on social media is not even half of how beautiful this place is in reality. Every corner hides the perfect picture spot and when you look at the valleys you feel like it is a movie scene! It is simply breath taking!
Cappadocia is situated in central Turkey (Anatolia) and it is well-known for its distinctive tall cone-shaped rock formations called ”fairy chimneys”! They were called this way, as people couldn’t explain how they were formatted in this particular way and thought that the only explanation is that they are made by fairies. In fact, Cappadocia is situated in between the 3 volcanoes in Anatolia, and it is claimed that the fairy chimneys got formatted by the eruptions of the volcanoes in the different eras.
The rock formations that you will see in Cappadocia are unique in the world, which is what makes this place so special. It is no surprise to me that it is a Unesco World Heritage Site. What is also unique is that the fairy chimneys were used as houses up until the 60s! Many of them are still private properties, but only a few are still used as houses, most owners use them as storage space nowadays. What is fascinating is that there is water and electricity inside of them too!
There are many villages in Cappadocia dating back to the 1st century, which are entirely built inside the fairy chimneys. You will find beautiful churches, houses and even wineries inside the fairy chimneys.
Some of the first Christians, who settled in the valley and started building monastery complexes inside the rocks, which later grew into villages, inhabited the area.
What to see in Cappadocia
There are many different things to see and do while in Cappadocia. I would say that you need 3 full days in order to explore well the region and see the main sites without rushing. Here is my list of places to visit while in Cappadocia:
Open Air Museums
There are three open museums in Cappadocia and all of them are a must see for me!
Goreme Open Air Museum
This open-air museum resembles a vast monastic complex composed of scores of refectory monasteries placed side-by-side, each with its own fantastic church. It contains the finest of the rock-cut churches, with beautiful frescoes (wall paintings) whose colors still retain all their original freshness. The best-preserved church in Goreme is the Dark Church, as no direct sunlight was entering inside, which is where the name came from. It also presents unique examples of rock hewn architecture and fresco technique. The Goreme Open Air Museum has been a member of UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984, and was one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.
The Zelve Open-Air Museum, which once housed one of the largest communities in the region is an amazing cave town, honeycombed with dwellings, religious and secular chambers. Here, the Christians and Muslims lived together in perfect harmony for many centuries, and you can find both mosques and churches inside the village. People used to live here until the 1950s, when living in the village became dangerous due to risk of erosion.
Pasabag Monks Valley
In this open air museum you can see some of the most remarkable fairy chimneys in the region, with twin and even triple rock caps. This style is unique even for Cappadocia and these fairy chimneys are named mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys. Like many other villages here, it also started as a monastery and later grew into a village.
Uchisar Castle used to be the highest point in the area and for that reason the castle was constructed there. Just like the houses in Cappadocia, the castle is also build inside the rocks. It is very impressive from distance, but when you get closer, it looks surreal. I was so impressed by its size and the fact that it was made completely inside the rocks. No surprise that it is also known as the castle-mountain. The castle is full of rooms and underground passageways, and back in the time more than 1000 people used to live inside of it. Also, you can find these cute camels around a couple of locations in Cappadocia, and the castle is one of them.
The Pigeon valley is situated between Göreme and Uçhisar and its name comes from the thousands of pigeon houses that have been carved into the soft tuff since ancient times. Although they can be found throughout Cappadocia, they are especially numerous in this valley. They were carved wherever space allowed, including abandoned cave houses and churches. In Cappadocia, pigeons have long been a source of food and fertilizer. The advent of chemical fertilizers has reduced the use of pigeon dung. However, some farmers still maintain their lofts because they insist that the reputation of Cappadocian fruits as the sweetest and most succulent in Turkey is entirely due to pigeon dung.
Derinkuyu underground city
There are a couple of underground cities in the area and what is fascinating is that many of them are connected with underground tunnels that are 10 kilometers long. We visited the Derinkuyu underground city and I was so impressed by its size. It has 8 levels (60 meters deep) and 30,000 people were able to live there. The city had very well constructed ventilation, so there is fresh air entiring through all levels and there was even a fresh water well. Inside the city was a school, a church and a winery, and people would usually spend there from one week to one month. The underground cities were used for protection during invasions, so that the people can hide from the Roman empire troops, as they would have been prosecuted for being Christian if found. In 1963, the tunnels to Derinkuyu were rediscovered after a resident of the area found a mysterious room behind a wall in his home. On the picture below I am standing in between two out of the eight levels of the underground city.
Flying with Hot Air Baloons
One of the key attractions when in Cappadocia are the colourful hot air balloons that fill up the sky every morning.
In the spring and the autumn there are around 200 balloons flying every day, while in the winter they are around 70. It is fascinating watching them from the ground, but even more fascinating flying on one of them. Also, the balloons go up just beofre sunrise, so you can see the beautiful sunrise from up in the sky.
I am not going to lie, I was quite scared to go on one of them, as I get a bit dizzy from heights. However, my enthusiasm for trying new things never lets me down, and despite my fears, I was completely sure that I want to fly on one of these balloons.
There are around 20 people in the balloon and it gets to 800 meter high. You are flying for about an hour and you get the best views over Cappadocia! During the flight you will go through the villages and at some points you will be flying right on top of the houses. It is truly an incredible experience and to be honest it was not scary at all! The balloon was way more stable than what I expected and there are two pilots to ensure a total safety of the passengers. What is also great about the hot air balloons in Turkey, is that the government has to confirm that the balloons can fly each morning. If the weather is even a bit risky for flying the balloon, the government will forbid the flying for the day. To sum it up, flying on a balloon in Turkey is very safe and the experience is truly incredible.
An important thing is that you have to book your flight way in advance (at least 2 months before your visit if you go during the high season) to ensure your ticket! The balloons are not that many, and the demand is huge, as there are around 6 million tourists visiting Cappadocia every year, and most of them want to fly with the balloons. Therefore, my advice is to book your flight as soon as you have your trip confirmed. All companies that offer hot air balloon flights in Cappadocia are licensed, so you will be safe to travel with any of them.
Pottery Making in Avanos
Cappadocia is also famous for arts such as pottery making. Avanos is one of the towns in Cappadocia and it is particularly famous for the pottery making there. In Avanos you can find many small factories (mainly family businesses) which you can visit, in order to see the process of pottery making and to buy some beautiful pieces. I even got the chance to make my own pottery piece and it was an incredible experience. I was truly fascinated by the fact that everything is handmade and it can take up to 6 months for some of the pieces to be completed.
The Art of Carpet Making
Another famous art in Cappadocia is the carpet making. This region produces most of the carpets in the country and again, like the pottery making, it is an art that is completely hand made. In the factory that we visited, I saw for a first time in my life a 3D carpet painting, and it was one of the prettiest things I have ever seen. I was also able to observe how the women make the carpets, and I will share my visit with you on my vlog from the trip, so you can see in details how everything is done too.
When is the best time to visit Cappadocia
The highest seasons are spring and fall, as the weather is very nice, and there are rarely any cancellations on the hot air balloons. The time to avoid traveling to Cappadocia is during July and August as these are the warmest months of the year and the temperatures can get really high. The winter season is usually less attractive for tourists, as the weather can get cold and there might be even some snow. However, I really enjoyed visiting in the winter, as there are much less tourists than during the high seasons, which means that it is much more enjoyable to explore the region without having to que for entering the museums or being surrounded by crowds everywhere you go. We got very lucky with the weather, as it was quite warm for this period of the year, there was barely any snow on the ground and we were able to do all the activities that people usually do in the high seasons. Also, I found the place even more magical with some snow on the ground!
Where to stay
If you are in Cappadocia, you have to stay in one of the Cave boutique hotels. They are mainly build inside fairy chimneys and it is just an extremely authentic place to say at. We stayed at the CCR Cappadocia Cave Resort, which was on the hill where the Cappadocia Castle is and I loved it, as our rooms were on the terrace level facing the valley, so every morning we will wake up to the view of the flying hot air balloons. It was the most beautiful view I have ever woken up to! Also, our rooms looked like caves and they were just so authentic. It felt like living in a luxury fairy chimney for the duration of our stay. We stayed at Deluxe Suits, mainly so that we have this incredible view (on the picture below you will see the view from my room)!
How to go around Cappadocia
The best way to go around the region is by renting a car or booking a guide and a driver for your stay. We had a guide and a driver with us and for me was the best option to travel through the region, as it is extremely comfortable, you make your own program and you get all the information about the places you visit from the guide. However, if you want to explore on your own, you can always rent a car and do that. Cappadocia is a very safe place and there is not much traffic, so renting a car is totally a safe option.
Where to eat
Cappadocia consists of many villages and in each of them you will find typical Turkish restaurants. In general, the service and the food in Turkey is very good, and what is also great is that the prices are very cheap compared to most Western European countries. What is great is that all restaurants have licences and the food is inspected prior to being served, so in general the restaurants in Turkey are very safe. You can easily have a good dinner for two for 15 euros each. The dishes are primarily made of beef and lamb meat, but there are some local fish dishes too. Of course, there are many vegetarian options too. I took the picture below in front of one of the restaurants we had lunch at. Most restaurants look as authentic as this one!
To conclude, I had a great time in Cappadocia and for me it is a must-see place, as it is the only place in the world where you can find such rock formations. Also, I found it a very relaxing and safe place, and most importantly the local people were extremely friendly and helpful. If you decide to visit Cappadocia, I am sure you will love it there as much as I did!