Getting to know Cappadocia
In Cappadocia, the volcanic-rock landscapes are so strange that they look like they were created by elves. Every traveler’s bucket list includes a visit to this city. The rock, on the other hand, is slowly being eroded away by the forces of wind and water.
Burrowing through soft volcanic rock to live has remained a feature of this lunar landscape since the Bronze Age.
Byzantine rock-cut churches with stunning paintings, the labyrinthine underground city where early Christians sheltered from their enemies are all major tourist attractions in Cappadocia.
Aerial photographs of the region’s sinewy curves have made it one of the world’s best places to enjoy a hot-air balloon tour. Cappadocia’s valleys are one of Turkey’s top hiking and horseback riding attractions.
Hot air balloon
There are two types of hot air balloon:
Cappadocia’s early morning hot air balloon rides are a popular tourist attraction in Turkey.
The central valley and its rock formations are visible from above during the height of the hot-air balloon season, when more than 100 balloons soar to the skies shortly after daybreak.
Every day of the year, unless the flight is canceled due to bad weather, balloons take to the skies. Typically, you’ll fly across the Red, Rose, and Meskendir Valleys, but wind conditions may necessitate a different route.
Balloon rides last around one hour (with deluxe packages lasting around 90 minutes). All tours include hotel pick-up and drop-off, as well as a breakfast buffet, unless otherwise noted.
Due to the early morning start times of the hot-air balloon tours, visitors traveling from Istanbul to Cappadocia only for the purpose of hot-air ballooning should plan on staying at least one night.
The churches of Göreme open -air museum
The Göreme Open-Air Museum, a monastic complex of rock-cut buildings and monk cells with magnificent murals, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site just outside the village of Göreme.
Cappadocia was a major Byzantine religious center from the 10th through the 12th centuries, which is when the intricate frescoes were painted.
Many churches and chapels can be found within the complex, but the most notable include the Elmal (Apple) Church, which has an Ascension fresco above its door; the Azize Barbara (St. Barbara) Chapel, which has a red-ochre interior decoration; the Tokal (Buckle Church), which has a barrel-vaulted chamber covered in fresco; and the Ylanl (Snake) Church, which has wall-paintings of St. George.
The highlight of the complex, however, is the Karanlk (Dark) Church, which contains beautifully restored, vibrant murals considered among the world’s best mid-Byzantine art examples.
Hike and horseback ride in the Red and Rose Valleys
Located between the towns of Göreme and avusin, the intertwining valleys of Cappadocia are a sight to behold.
Although hot-air ballooning over the valleys is the most well-known activity in Cappadocia, there are numerous other ways to see the valleys at their best. It’s the perfect time of year to pack your hiking gear and set out on one of the many trails. Hikes might last anywhere from a few hours to several days.
The Göreme Village
It’s little surprise that Göreme has been ranked one of the world’s most beautiful villages by a number of travel publications.
The community is hidden beneath the stone façade of its stone houses, half-buried into the slope. There are a number of traditional dwellings in Göreme that have been converted into boutique cave hotels.
Göreme Open-Air Museum is just a short walk away from the El Nazar (Evil Eye) and Sakl (Hidden) churches, both of which are accessible by Müze Caddesi.
All the valleys that branch out from the settlement offer a wealth of hiking routes, known locally as fairy chimneys, and secret cave churches, which lead to breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
It was during the early Byzantine period (the 6th and 7th centuries), when Christians in Cappadocia sought refuge underground to stave off Arab and Persian invasions, that the region’s underground cities were first excavated.
There are eight floors in the Kaymakl Underground City, which is Cappadocia’s most extensive example. Visitors get access to four of these levels.
One of Cappadocia’s deepest caves is the Derinkuyu Underground City. Deeper and deeper inside, the tunnels get increasingly claustrophobic. This subterranean labyrinth features a vast chapel as well as numerous rooms for habitation and storage. It is also possible to witness the innovative ventilation shaft system employed by the people of Derinkuyu.
You can visit both Derinkuyu and Kaymakl Underground Cities in one day, but if you only have time for one, Kaymakl is less visited by tour buses, so you’re more likely to be able to explore the tunnels without seeing too many people.
The Zelve Open-Air Museum.
Walking through Zelve Open-Air Museum is like stepping back in time to ancient Cappadocia, with its rocky cliffs dotted with cave houses.
As a 9th-century monastic hamlet, it grew into a bustling village in the 20th century.
In 1952, the village had to be abandoned due to erosion and rockfall concerns. There is now a museum in the valley.
One of the most preserved churches is the Üzümlü (Grape) Church, which also features a rock-cut mosque. It’s the cliffside trails, the cave homes’ fire-blackened interiors, and the breathtaking views that make this place truly special.
The Valley of Ihlara
Naturalists will adore this 100-meter-deep gorge’s tiny, lush valley at its foot in southwest Cappadocia.
Poplar trees tower over the Melendiz River, which flows for 14 kilometers from Selime village to Ihlara village in the Ihlara Valley, which is surrounded by rough, steep rocks.
During the Byzantine era, hermetic monks constructed churches and monastery complexes into the rock face, making this a popular retreat.
These three are among the greatest, although there are many others to visit along the road, including the Kokar (Fragrant) Church, Ylanl (Snake), and Krk Dam Alt Church (also known as Saint George Church).
Selime Monastery, perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Ihlara Valley, is a stunning starting or ending place for an Ihlara Valley climb.
The Churches at avusin
avusin’s main draw is a pair of beautiful Byzantine cathedrals.
The avusin Church, also known as the Big Pigeon House Church since it was formerly a local pigeon house in the early twentieth century, is located near the town’s entrance and features exquisite interior frescos.
It’s possible to get to the Church of Saint John the Baptist in the historic village center by going along the ridge above the tumble of dilapidated dwellings.
An outstanding sight are the cathedral’s basilica-like dimensions and massive columns. The building also has panoramic rural views from its cave entrance.
Open-Air Museum of Soanl, Turkey
There are numerous pyramid-shaped rock pinnacles in the twin valleys of Soanli, which were first carved out in the Roman era.
Soanl had grown into a prominent monastic complex by the time of the Byzantine Empire, with its granite pinnacles housing chapels and monk cells.
The best-preserved frescos are found in the Karabaş (Black Hat) Church, Ylanli (Snake) Church, and Sakl (Hidden) Church.
The route leading to Soganli is dotted with picturesque villages and ancient landmarks, making it an ideal destination for a day trip.
The Paşaba Fairy Chimneys
Paşaba Valley’s hoodoos (sometimes referred to as fairy chimneys in Cappadocia) have made it a well-known tourist destination in the region.
Stylites, a 4th-century monk who lived his entire life on top of a pillar in northern Syria, had a religious community here in the early Byzantine period that dedicated themselves to their own stylite activities.
Instead of building pillars, they carved hermit-style monastic cells into the rock pinnacles, where they might pray in solitude. You can see the remains of a monk’s cell if you’d like.
The Pasabag Valley and the Zelve Open-Air Museum are just two kilometers away on the same road, making it easy to combine a visit to both destinations.