Sipping hot Turkish tea on a cold chilly morning atop terrace of our cave hotel, I realized there is a certain sense of timelessness to Cappadocia as I looked upon the numerous fairy chimney rocks on the horizon. Modern cave hotels carved in unique rock structures, underground cities created in1800 BC and still intact in today’s civilization, whirling dervishes which transpond you on a spiritual journey are some of timeless wonders one can only experience in Cappadocia. During our short 2.5 day trip to this unique destination, we experienced these 7 wonders which left us completely mesmerised with the region.
Nature’s wondrous landscape
We took a flight from Istanbul to Kayseri (major airport in the region) and the unique landscape of Cappadocia was visible from the flight itself – vast arid plateau pierced with volcanic peaks ,the highest peak Mt, Erciyes visible from Kayseri as we landed. Cappadocia region is located in the central Anatolia in the heartland of Turkey. Its unique landscape is due to hundreds of minaret shaped rock formations from volcanic eruptions dotting the otherwise flat region of Anatolia. These rock structures also known as fairy chimneys are indeed unique spectacle!
The major tourist towns in the region are Goreme, Uchisar and Urgup. Goreme provides wholesome tourist experience with plenty of hotels, restaurants and shops in the central area whereas Urgup is quieter place and Uchisar has a great view but farther from must-see spots.We chose to stay in Goreme (about an hour away from Kayseri airport) in a cave hotel named Terra Cave Hotel.
People have carved homes, churches, monasteries hundreds of years ago in the soft volcanic rock structures spread across Cappadocia. In modern times, locals have converted them into hotels and they are in abundance. Our room at Terra Cave hotel was carved out of such rock and resembled a modern cave with its vintage furniture and a small library of Turkish books. The hotel management also took care of arranging drop-off/pick-up from airport as well as other destinations we visited while in Cappadocia.
Cappadocia contains several underground cities, largely used by early Christians as hiding places before Christianity became an accepted religion. The underground cities have vast defence networks of traps throughout their many levels. We visited Derinkuyu Underground city as part of Green Day Tour (there are other day tours Red and Blue as well but Green tour covers distant areas and most Red/Blue spots can be covered by walking – Goreme open air museum – if you are staying in Goreme). Derinkuyu Underground city was 14 levels deep (200 ft) and tourists are allowed until 8th level. We were amazed at the elaborate structures underground with creative traps at every level to defend the refugees.
Hiking in Cappadocia
The Green tour offers good, well-guided opportunities for travelers to explore the region on foot – be it Pigeon valley with fairy chimneys, Selime monastery – largest rock-cut monastery in the region or beautiful Ihlara valley where we hiked along a stream exploring ancient churches and natural flora of the region. Hiking in Cappadocia is fun and exposes region’s hidden jewels and offers many panoramic views.
Goreme has many restaurants which offer traditional Turkish food – from pide to kebabs and mouth-watering desserts. But there are few jewels which require advance reservations – Topdeck, Pumpkin. We visited Pumpkin which is a small family run restaurant with an extremely hospitable and attentive chef. It offers four-course dinner with advanced preparation and well-blended choice of courses. The ambience has typical Turkish artefacts such as mosaic lamps, glass Turkish eyes and ceramic utensils. We were particularly touched with the parting gift which my wife received from the chef – Turkish eye and embroidered purse.
The mystical ceremony of the whirling dervishes is a quintessential Turkish experience. And we are glad we experienced the ceremony at the ancient setting of Saruhan Caravenserai near Goreme on our first evening (it costs 40 Euros per person!) . The ceremony is inspired by teachings of the ancient Sufi Mevlana Rumi and it is a prayer to the almighty performed by religious men (dervish) whirling round with their arms open to the sky. The ancient setting, soothing music and the spiritual dervishes of the evening left us in a sense of awe.
Because of its unique landscape, Cappadocia is perfect place to experience hot air balloon ride. We did not intend to miss out on this and hence pre-booked online on Viator. There are a plenty of balloon ride companies and we chose one of the reliable Sultan Rides. They were professional and took care of our entire group (25 people in balloon). The balloon ride starts early in the morning at 5:45 am and we took off just in time to catch sunrise from the balloon. It is indeed a surreal experience as we gently drifted above fairy chimneys and caught sunrise far over Mt. Erciyes among hundreds of other balloons in the sky. The tour ended with a champagne celebration and ending our short Cappadocia visit on a ‘high’ note.