Cappadocia: Just a few hours east of Ankara or a day’s journey north from Antalya and the Mediterranean. Close to the geographic center of Turkey, the natural landscape here is so astonishing that you might be convinced that you are on another planet. Mushroom-shaped rocks rise to form walls that are dotted with caves. Farther in the distance stand honey-gold conical rocks that look like nothing more than rockets that have been polished smooth by the weather.
The landscape is right out of The Flintstones and is the result of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Tons of ash combined with clay and hardened to form a porous rock called tuff. Over time rain and wind did their job, carving remarkable shapes into the soft stone. Because they were both safe and comfortable, the local people would escape to the caves during times of war and danger.
Some of the rock formations still serve as homes, while others house secret churches and chapels adorned with Byzantine frescos. You can find whole communities below the surface in Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, which at times have housed thousands of people, along with everything from a school and apartments to a drunk tank and a wine press.
Today, Cappadocia is one of Turkey’s biggest attractions. Many tourists make their way to the small towns of Göreme and Ürgüp to marvel at the thousand-year-old rock churches at the Göreme Open-Air Museum and watch the sunset over the spectacular rock formations of Pasabag.
The landscape covers a wide area, with pleasant surprises lurking around every corner. Life in quiet villages such as Ayvali is unassuming and rustic. Apricots are left to dry on the rooftops, and tandir ekmek (tandoor bread) is baked in underground ovens. Hidden valleys, such as Soganli, are ripe for hiking, while the amazing Uzenge Vadi is reminiscent of a shining oasis, with figs and the sweet sound of nightingales.
And don’t forget the food. The local delicacy, testi kebab, bubbles away in a clay jug that is broken open upon serving, releasing the rich aroma of lamb, onion, garlic, tomatoes, chili, and much, much more. The refreshing local wines, on the other hand, give you a taste of the volcanic earth itself.
Things to do
Guided hikes are offered by companies including Walking Mehmet, and Kirkit Voyage. With Akhal-Teke, you can experience Cappadocia on horseback. Hot air balloon rides with Butterfly Balloons, cost €165 upwards. The highly reputable Ekstra Tourism & Travel, organizes tours and accommodation.
Where to stay
Try the beautiful Aydinli Cave House, in Göreme. In the quiet village of Ayvali is the romantic Gamirasu Hotel, which is housed in a thousand-year-old Byzantine monastery. Argos in Cappadocia, in the village of Üchisar, offers exquisite, well-designed accommodation that is something special. The Esbelli Evi Cave Hotel, offers beautiful and comfortable rooms in a cave in Ürgüp.
Where to eat
The renowned Seten, at the Kelebek Cave Hotel in Göreme, not only offers traditional local dishes and Anatolian gourmet dining but also organizes cooking classes. They have their own excellent wine cellar. Ziggys, in Ürgüp has beautiful, relaxed surroundings that are reason enough to come here. The food and wine give you yet another. Try the pastirma-, the local air-dried beef, or sample several different dishes at once with a meze platter. Muti Restaurant by Prokopia, in Ürgüp, serves excellent food at a 250-year-old caravansary.
SAS flies direct to Ankara from Stockholm (from June) and Copenhagen (from April). From Ankara you can reach Cappadocia by taking the bus to Göreme (4–5 hours).
Text: Mikael Persson Photos
Published: March 17, 2015