Cappadocia – land of the beautiful horses

Cappadocia

Cappadocia is a historical land in central Turkey and in the central part of Anatolia plateau. It stretches south of Ankara and east of Konya. In 1985, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List:Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia. In a spectacular landscape, entirely sculpted by erosion, the Goreme valley and its surroundings contain rock-hewn sanctuaries that provide unique evidence of Byzantine art in the post-Iconoclastic period. Dwellings, troglodyte villages and underground towns – the remains of a traditional human habitat dating back to the 4th century – can also be seen there.”

Legends and local guides say that the name of Cappadocia in Persian language means “a land of the beautiful horses”. It is because, during times of the Persian empire, there were many wild horses living in this area. “My own Cappadocia” first of all it is a land of balloons, unusual landscapes and magical atmosphere. It is also a land of the beautiful horses, pigeons, carpets, colorful lanterns and floral gardens.  From culinary perspective it is a land of a delicious slow cooked kebab, prepared in a seal clay pot, called “testi kebab“.

I have spent four days in Cappadocia. At that time I participated in two full-day trips. I have spent the whole day on exploring the city of Goreme and the nearby Open Air Museum. During sunrise, I had the opportunity to admire colorful balloons floating in the sky. At the end  – after long waiting for weather conditions – I could experience the greatest adventure in my life – hot air balloon flight.

Below, I will describe what most delighted me in Cappadocia. Apart from a brief description of several places and hot air balloon flight – it will be a story mainly described by the image.

Balloons
Cappadocia

Cappadocia – how to get there?

From Poland, it is most convenient to get there by plane. When I was planning my trip, I could only choose a connecting flight with change in Istanbul. Being in Istanbul, of course, it is worth staying there longer. However, if the purpose of your journey is Cappadocia only, you can choose a flight connection that will not require from you to change the airport, just terminal.

In Cappadocia there are 2 airports: Nevsehir and Kayseri. From Atatürk Airport, you can only reach Kayseri airport. In fact there are more flights to Nevsehir Airport, which is closer to Goreme Park in Cappadocia. Direct flights to Nevsehir depart from the second Istanbul airport – Sabiha Gokcen. It is an airport located on the other side of the city.  Mainly charter flights and low-cost airlines are landing there. If you want to get to Nevshehir, you will have to change the Ataturk airport. This can take you even 2 hours, as you need to get through a crowded city. More about how to get to this airport you can find on the Sabiha Airport website. Flight from Istanbul to Cappadocia takes about 1.5 hours (for both airports flying time is similar).

On the spot it is worthy to book a transfer (you can order it in almost all hotels in Cappadocia). Transfer prices are really very affordable (30 TL per person, one way/about 4,5$). This transfer option includes minibus transport. The driver takes several people from the airport and delivers them to individual hotels which are on the way. This is in fact a very interesting travel option. On the way you can see how other hotels look like and take a closer look at the city.

Hot air balloons

Extraordinary experience

Hot air balloon flight is by far the most important attraction of this region. It is worth to know that this is an all-year-round attraction. Yes, it is also possible to flight a balloon in winter, when Cappadocia is covered with snow. During winter there are more stable weather conditions and so, the balloon flights are more predictable.

We have spent four days in Cappadocia and only on the last day we managed to fly a balloon. For the first two days all flights were banned due to a strong wind. On the third day there were so many people waiting for a balloon flight, that there was not enough place for everyone. Fortunately, our organizer knew that we are going to spent in Cappadocia one more day, so he has confirmed our balloon flight for the following day.

Every day (when there are favourable weather conditions) – there are 150 hot air balloons rising up to the sky at the same time, and in each gondola, there are 20 people as an average. This means that despite three thousand places – during high season there may be a problem to book a flight. That’s why it is worthy to book a place in advance, before arriving in Cappadocia. This will still not give you a 100% guarantee of the flight, due to changing weather conditions, but at least we will be considered as a priority customer.

Hot air balloon flight is a magical experience: non-comparable, unique, extraordinary. I do not know how to describe my emotions associated with it yet, but the truth is that I have been dreaming about flying balloon already several times. This is a very strong experience with a lot of beautiful emotions.

Hot air balloon
Hot air balloon

Hot air balloon flight – is it for everyone?

For those who are afraid of heights or fear of this type of trip, it is worth to highlight that balloon flight itself is extremely soft, smooth and there is no way to fall out of the gondola. During the flight, there is no effect of jerking or gondola swinging. The balloon gently rises up and gently flows over the sky. You do not feel when the balloon’s gondola takes off the ground or when the balloon goes up. During the flight – the balloon rotates gently around its own axis, which guarantees 360-degree views during your entire flight.

Everyone can join a balloon flight, for adults there are no age limits, just people need to be able to climb the gondola basket. Children must be min 6 years old, and those below 16 must be accompanied by the adults. An additional requirement is a minimum height of 120 cm, which allows you to look over the edge of the gondola and take a safe landing position.

Hot air balloon flight – organisation

The balloon adventure starts early in the morning. The company that organizes our flight picks us up directly from our hotel. Pick up from most of the hotels starts around 4.00 a.m., when there is still dark in Cappadocia. On the way to the gathering place, everyone receives instructions on how to behave in the balloon during take-off and landing. This is a very important element of our adventure – everyone should learn this instruction well. There was also a name of our pilot written on the instruction.

All passengers were brought to the main office of the company we were flying with, where a light breakfast (croissants, coffee, tea, juices) was served. At this point we were waiting for a message from the center of Turkish Civil Aviation, as by 5.00 a.m. it was still unknown whether the balloons would fly that day. Just after the permission was granted, all customers were packed into minibuses. Behind the windshield of each minibus, there were cards with pilot’s names, so each of us knew which car to get in. They took us directly to the balloon departure place.

Gondola, where to stand?

When we arrived, our balloon was already filled with hot air. The gondola stood ready, ready for us to enter. The balloon gondola is large and oblong, divided into 5 sections. In the middle section there are gas cylinders and a balloon pilot. There are four passenger compartments, situated on both sides in relation to the central section.

Each compartment has space for max 5 people, so there were 20 places all together in our gondola. In Cappadocia you can also book gondolas with other sizes: small ones for 4-6 person or big for 24 people. After entering the given gondola compartment, it can’t be changed later. It is because the walls separating individual sections are the same height as the gondola itself. Anyway, it does not matter where you stand, because the balloon rotates around its own axis, so everyone has the same view and so – every place is the same good.

hot air balloon
Flying hot air balloon

Hot air balloon flight

The balloon flight took us about 45 minutes. During the flight, our balloon rose up even to a height of about 900 meters, so it was the moment when we flew over the clouds. The view was priceless! Most of the time our balloon flew lower attitude, sometimes just above the ground level or just above rocks, but our pilot was very experienced once and there was no situation where we would feel anxiety or fear that we would hit something.

During the balloon flight, we were watching the sunrise, we were admiring beauty of the Goreme Park and other balloons flying around us.

Hot air balloon flight – landing and final information

Just before landing, our pilot gave us instructions when to take a safe position. We all needed to make a semi-squat with back resting on the back side of the gondola. Such a position has allowed us to have a soft landing and not fall out of the gondola in case of strong gusts of wind. Our landing was extremely gentle and safe. Throughout the whole flight, our pilot was in radio contact with the central office. Our landing moment was so well coordinated and so precise that our basket has landed directly on the semi-trailer of the car that came for us.

After landing, we could observe how our balloon was rolled up, and at the same time we saw other balloons’ landings. At the end, our pilot has handed over to us registered certificates confirming the balloon journey. Everyone has also received a glass of the non-alcoholic champagne, to celebrate a nice experience and a happy landing. We were driven back to the hotel at around 6.30 a.m.

The company we travelled with a balloon is the oldest company offering balloon flights in Cappadocia. Since the organization and course of the flight was at the highest level, I share below link to their site as my personal recommendation.

With Kapadokya Balloons, hot air balloon flight price is 150 Euro (170$) per person (in a 20-person gondola). The price is high however, you can’t put a price on this lifetime experience. It is worth considering that probably you will never repeat it again, so this adventure is worth every price.

Kapadokya Balloons
Kapadokya Balloons

In Cappadocia, you can find prices from 130 to 250 Euro (150 – 290$) per person. Before taking final decision please compare time of flying and how big gondolas are. This all impacts the final price.

Other hot air balloon flight offers worth recommending:

All these companies offer flights lasting between 45-60 minutes (depending on the strength and direction of the wind). They also offer a 50% discount for children up to 12 years of age.

Cappadocia – what is worth to see?

One day trips

There are no doubts, that main reason why most people come to Cappadocia is the possibility of a hot air balloon flight. It is actually such an unusual attraction and the experience is so deep, that I know many people who have not seen anything else in Cappadocia – and it’s a pity.

Most of all – Cappadocia is famous from its unusual landscape forms, made of the volcanic tuffs created about 8,000 years ago. Being there you can choose an offer from one of the many travel agencies that are located in Cappadocia. This form of sightseeing seems to be attractive especially for those who came to Cappadocia only for a short stay (2-3 days) and would like to see several attractions on one day. This offer includes a pick-up from your accommodation, English language guided tour, lunch and a return to the hotel at the end of the day.

In the offer of majority of the travel agencies you can book the same trips: red, green and blue tour. Because I took part in only two of them, below I will briefly describe the red and green tour only – the most popular ones.

Cappadocia Red Tour

Price for the “Red Tour” trip is 28 Euro (32$). From the hotel we were picked up at 9.30 a.m.. We return back at 4.00 p.m., so the full trip took us 6,5 hours.

Plan of the trip
  • Uçhisar Castle – it a natural citadel made of stone; the highest point in the region
  • Goreme Open Air Museum – is the first and biggest monastery where the religious eduction was started.
  • Love Valley – it is made of the funny shaped fairy chimneys
  • Paşabağ fairy Chimnyes (called also „Valley of the Monks”), this place is also unique for Cappadocia. Here are some of the most impressive basalt-tuff fairy chimneys with multiple stems and caps.
  • Pottery demonstration – a visit in the city of Avanos at one of the oldest local pottery manufacturers.  Show of making a clay pot.
  • Devrent Imagination Valley – also called the “Valley of Imagination” is a region containing rock formations reminiscent of fanciful sculptures.
Devrent imagination valley
  • Urgup fairy Chimneys (also called “Three Beauties”). This is the most famous rock formation in Cappadocia, most often appearing on the covers of guides or tourist folders.

Skansen – Open Air Museum

Personally, I think, the most interesting part of this “Red Tour” trip was the Open Air Museum. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1984. It was the second object from Turkey listed on this World Heritage list. Museum is a large complex of refectory convents placed next to each other, and each of them has its own church. All churches were carved out of the rock. In some of them, colorful frescoes have been preserved.

Unfortunately – during our guided trip, there was not enough time for taking pictures as we were in a hurry. For this reason, we returned to the open-air museum a day after and once again we went thru its all attractions. You can reach there from Goreme directly on foot (about 20-25 minutes’ walking distance from the city center).

Goreme Open Air Museum – admission cost is 30 TL (about 4,5$). The museum is open from 8.00 a.m. till 7.00 p.m. in the summer period (from mid-April till end of September). During winter months (from October to mid-April), the museum is open from 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.

You can read more about the Open Air Museum on the Turkish Heritage Travel website.

Cappadocia – Green Tour

A Green Tour costs 33 Euro (about 38,5$). We were picked up from the hotel at 9.30 a.m. We returned to the hotel around 6:30 p.m., so the whole trip took us about 9 hours.

Plan of the trip
  • Goreme Panorama – panoramic point where you can see a wonderful view of the Goreme town with amazing cave houses.
  • Derinkuyu Underground City – is an ancient multi-level underground city in the Derinkuyu district in Nevşehir Province.
Derinkuyu Underground City
  • Ihlara Valley (named also Ihlara Gorge) – it is the most famous valley in Turkey for hiking excursions.
Ihlara Valley
  • Star Wars Panorama – a panorama reminiscent of the scenography from the movie “Star Wars”.
  • Selime Monastery – the biggest rock monastery in Cappadocia with a large cathedral and breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
  • Pigeon Valley – panoramic view point. It is one of the longest valleys in the region, ideal for walking, as the trek is relatively easy.
Pigeon Valley
Pigeon Valley
  • Onyx Demonstration – a visit to a local onyx factory, mainly intended for shopping of jewellery.

Derinkuyu Underground City

There are nearly 40 underground cities discovered in Cappadocia, but only some of them have been open to the public. Derinkuyu Underground City is the deepest one. In ancient times, Christians who were persecuted by Arab invaders, were looking for a shelter in underground cities. It is estimated that in between 5th-10th century, there were tens of thousands of people living underground in sediments. Visitors who go down to this place can see there: narrow labyrinths, underground passages and winding corridors. You can still see ventilation shafts, chimneys and wells, chapels, food storages, grain grinding places or wine pitchers. Currently, there are still people living in some of such places. Today’s shelters are more modernized versions, fully equipped with the comforts of the 21st century (electricity, Internet, satellite TV). Some of them are converted into accommodation for tourists.

For those who would like to visit the Underground city of Derinkuyu single ticket costs 25 TL (about 4$).

The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer period (from mid-April to the second of October). In the winter months (from October 3 to mid-April), the museum is open from 8.00 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ihlara Valley

In the south of Cappadocia there is a beautiful green gorge named Ihlara Valley. It is the deepest gorge in the entire region of Anatolia. A walk (as part of a green trip) along the river Melendiz takes about 1 hour. You can start the tour with a visit to the Belisirma restaurant, which is in the middle of the forest. The main attraction of this place are mainly floating platforms placed in the middle of the river and lined with soft rugs, where you can eat lunch or dinner.

At the end of the trail there is a small cafe, where we had 15 minutes coffee / tea break before the way back.

For me it is the best attraction of the whole “Green Tour” trip. The riverbed is surrounded by high rocks, and the whole gorge is overgrown with lush vegetation. I think that it is worthy to spend more time in this place.  It is a perfect place for a day-long rest in silence and far away from the civilisation. In recent years, the Ihlara Valley has become a popular destination for walking escapades for the locals.  Fortunately it is still a quiet place, as it is not very popular among tourists. The entire walking path is 14 km long and leads through the canyon which was cut by the river. An additional attraction in the valley there are the numerous carved sidewalks. Some of them are dated back to the 4th century. There are also about 60 Byzantine temples built between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Nowadays, the biggest advantage of this place is that there are not too many visitors.  If you have time and an opportunity to visit Ihlara Valley – I strongly encourage you to do it.

Pigeon Valley

The name “Pigeon Valley” comes from the thousands of pigeon houses that have been carved into the soft tuff during ancient times. Long time ago, there were local people encouraged to breed pigeons. First, pigeons served to deliver messages to distant places. Second, pigeon eggs were used as a colour fixer. Until today, colorful frescoes that we can see in the Cappadocian churches, have preserved their juicy colours due to the content of pigeon eggs in dyes. However, the most important reason of the breeding of pigeons was their guano. It turned out that it perfectly fertilizes a volcanic soil, needed for growing grapes. Thanks to this, there was no shortage of wine needed to celebrate Christian’s masses.

Cappadocia – other attractions

If you do not fly the balloon that day it is worthy to get up early in the morning and go to the viewpoint. This experience is almost as strong as the balloon flight itself! I think that being in Cappadocia it is worth experiencing both of them. In Goreme, such a viewpoint (Sunset Point) is located in the east of the city. The address for the GPS is as follows: Sunset Aydın Kırağı Seyir Yeri. From the city center it takes about 15-20 minutes to get there (uphill). It is worth coming there before sunrise. The view of 150 hot air balloons rising almost simultaneously – is amazing! For half an hour you can take pictures and after all, you can still have an impression that you want more.

Pink Valley

Another popular local attraction is hiking or horse tours. Many people come to Cappadocia because of the interesting sightseeing routes. A very popular place for hiking and horse riding is the Pink Valley. In fact, the Pink Valley colour of the rocks is white. The magic happenes, with the change of the sun position on the sky when rocks take on a pinkish colour. The walking route along the Pink Valley is about 6.5 km long, and the trip itself will take us about 4 hours. Majority of the route is not particularly difficult or physically exhausting.

Pink Valley - Goreme
Pink Valley – Goreme

Cappadocia – land of the beautiful horses

According to the meaning of the name Cappadocia “land of the beautiful horses” – this is a place where horses are numerous here and are part of the local landscape. Nowadays, there are no more wild horses living here. On the outskirts of the cities there are many stud farms instead and branch of tourism developed around this subject.

Horse-back riding tours are very popular in Cappadocia. On the spot, you can find several companies that have been organizing this form of tourism for several years. The standard offer includes short tour trips (2-4 hours) or one-day trips. I personally did not use this form of rest, but I got the offer of the several organizers. Below, I share few links, maybe some of you will find the useful. Personally I do not know any of those companies. That is why their appearance on the blog does not mean that I recommend them.

Goreme – the city

The ancient name of the Goreme is Maccan, and the first notes about this place were found in books from the 7th century. Göreme is one of the oldest towns in Cappadocia. During the invasions of Arab troops, it was repeatedly destroyed and plundered. Today Göreme lies in the valley of the same name and is popular mainly due to its unique character. This is a place where you have the impression that time has stopped in place. Despite the masses of tourists, it is a place where you can still see very close contact between people and nature. People still live here in homes carved in the rocks! Some of these houses – nowadays have been converted into warehouses, restaurants or hotels.

Currently, in the city of Goreme there are almost 200 places offering accommodation. You can choose from: hostels, hotels or guest houses.

The town is worth visiting on foot. Residents who are not directly involved in the tourist business (hoteliers, restaurateurs, organizers of balloon flights or tourist trips) – they deal with handicrafts. They make carpets, ceramics or jewellery. In the town center there are several walking paths lined with carpets. That means, that there are many places where carpets can be purchased. Popular local souvenir can be ceramics or colorful lanterns. Everywhere guests are warmly welcomed with a free cup of Turkish tea.

Goreme is a charming place. It is worth to get lost in its narrow streets. Take your time to admire its magnificent monuments. Look for remnants of houses carved in the rocks, or spot a beauty of the Pink Valley. The whole town is surrounded by valleys and attractive rock formations, so staying in this place can really satisfied us.

Cappadocia – what to eat?

In the Goreme city there are many restaurants serving local dishes. For fans of pizza or hamburger there are also places offering such dishes. The biggest local delicacy and pride of the Anatolia region is “Testi Kebap“. It’s a meat stew (mostly lamb or mutton), with tomatoes, garlic, paprika and a lot of herbs. It is boiled in a tightly closed clay jug (the jug is glued with bread dough or foil). Traditionally prepared dish is baked in the campfire (or in the oven) for several hours. Just before serving the stew on the table, the clay jug is broken, and the aromatic stew is poured from the jug onto the plate. It is a real local rarity – worth a try!

Goreme – where to live?

As I wrote before – in Cappadocia tourists have a very wide range of accommodation. In Goreme, most of the hotels have beautiful floral gardens and terraces with colorful carpets. There are tourists who are looking for beautiful scenography for Instagram pictures or with colorful lanterns hanging over their heads. While strolling around Göreme, I saw many lovely places: with beautiful gardens, with lots of flowers. Below is a gallery that may inspire some of you to make a reservation in one of these charming places.

Please note, that living in a house carved out of the rock – it is an incredible attraction. However, you must remember that this offer is not designated for everyone. In the rooms carved in the rock there is quite high humidity and may be a specific smell of moisture. For those of you with respiratory diseases, I would not recommend it. However, if your room has a window (which is not a rule), it is worth to keep it always open. You can also choose a higher-class hotel with air conditioning in the cave rooms. Although it can upgrade your accommodation standard, it seems that this is not the same experience and quite “artificial” environment.

Charming Cave Hotel – my own recommendation

We have spent five nights in a charming and magical place. There were no patterned carpets or colorful lanterns. There were neither fireworks on our arrival nor a bottle of champagne. After all this place has impressed us. It has remained in our hearts and will stay in our memory for a long time. The way how the owners made our stay unforgettable was easy and simple. There was a family atmosphere, extraordinary courtesy and a high standard of service.

The Charming Cave Hotel is a boutique, family-run guesthouse. It is run by two brothers: Irfan and Ibrahim, but there is also their mother working as well. In the morning she prepares homemade breakfasts and delicious scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers (menemen). The atmosphere that prevails there – gives the impression that every guest feels as at home. Always one of the brothers is in the hotel, and the reception is open 24 hours a day. At any time of the day or night, guests are offered free coffee or tea. Sometimes they want to share what their mother baked or what she brought them to eat for dinner. They always provide help or good advice.

Charming Cave Hotel – the offer

Via hotel reception I have booked both full-day trips, hot air balloon flight and dinner at a local restaurant. The owners are always willing to help, polite and smiling.

The hotel itself is unique and very interesting. There are some rooms carved from the natural rocks and there are rooms built from the stones of Cappadocia. In some rooms there is a fireplace or a bathtub with a jacuzzi. Each room has windows facing the old city of Göreme and the characteristic rock chimneys. In the morning – from the windows of the rooms you can see balloons flying over the town. The Goreme viewpoint can be reached from here on foot in 10 minutes. The city center is a 5-minute walk away and restaurants serving local delicacies are right next to the hotel.

I highly recommend this place to everyone! Although it is without extravagant gadgets, fireworks or colorful rugs, but this place has a “soul”. There is a family atmosphere and a high standard of services.

Goreme -The Charming Cave Hotel
Goreme -The Charming Cave Hotel

Charming Cave hotel – booking

You can book this place directly on the Charming Cave hotel website, or via one of the booking agencies, i.e. Booking.com.

The owners of the hotel can communicate freely in English language. All local attractions can be booked even before arriving to Cappadocia. It is because hotel contacts each client immediately after booking and offers their assistance in organizing free time.

Cappadocia – final summary

Cappadocia is one of the most beautiful journeys I’ve ever had in my life and a great adventure. Always I will act as an ambassador of this place. I will aslo recommend it to all my friends. I am pritty sure they will fall in love in this place as much as I did. It is a great place for a romantic getaway for two or for a short family trip with children. It is a super place for a honeymoon trip or just for a weekend. Every excuse and every reason are good for Cappadocia to be included in your next travel plans.

For me, the idea of visiting Cappadocia was born a year before.  I found an interesting article about it one of the travel magazines. Anyway, I hope that this post will be a good inspiration for you. I also hope that will begin of a process that leads you to experience a great adventure.

Let yourself to be tear off from the daily routine and fly! 😊

Goreme

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