Visiting Cappadocia for its hot air balloon ride over the rugged terrains was always part of the bucket list. But exploring the old town makes one realize that this place has much more to offer than just the popular cave hotels and the view of balloons drifting across the landscape.
Cappadocia/Kapadokya/Goreme - the different names in which this surreal destination is referred to - will take you back 100,000 years ago when craters and chimneys dominated the landscape.
Arriving in Goreme:
Two options to reach this place - bus or flight. We opted for the former by taking an overnight bus from Fethiye. There are several bus options available from Istanbul and Antalya as well. The much easier and time saving option is flying into the Kayseri Airport or the Nevsehir Airport (closer to the Goreme). After arriving in one of these airports, you need to take a cab to reach the Goreme town, which is an hour drive.
About the place:
The old town has a plethora of rich history and most of the iconic structures here will give you the sense of how men dug into the soft tuff to create dwellings, churches and underground cities. The essence of this can be witnessed in totality if you choose to stay in one of the cave hotels.
Ideally, pick a cave hotel near the Goreme town as this area, which is near the local bus station, is bustling with shops and eateries. However, my pick was the Azure Cave Hotel, which was nearly 15 mins away (by car) from the Goreme town. While the experience staying in a cave suite was full-filled, but pretty much the nearby areas here was no short of a ghost town. During the daytime it is almost impossible to find any eatery here as most of the places open only after sundown.
Cappadocia, which means “the land of beautiful horses,” makes it literal with the horse riding tour of the town. The encompassing beauty of the landscape can be enjoyed while riding a horse. From the Goreme town to the open-air museum, one can enjoy the breathtaking view of the fairy chimneys and the dustiness of the dry plateau.
Well, another way we tasted the dust of the land was through the ATV ride along the corners of the fairy chimneys. An offbeat way of exploring starting from Goreme town to Rose Valley, Girls Monastery, Red Valley, Swords Valley and Love Valley. You definitely will require taking a shower following the ATV ride.
The hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia, which is a major tourist attraction, is only conducted once a day during the morning hours. Due to its popularity, it is always better to make a booking before your arrival in Cappadocia. However, the flight depends on the weather conditions and sometimes, during high winds forecast, the government gives a red signal before takeoff. Under such circumstance, the hot air balloon company refunds the amount paid, which usually varies between 170-200 Euros). Luckily for me, the flight got a green light and made it possible for me to tick it off my bucket list.
During the hot air balloon ride, which is a 45 minutes to an hour flight, the pilot gives out some safety tips which must be adhered to. Most companies provides with a flight certificate and celebratory champagne session upon landing.
Exploring the rocky wonderland of Cappadocia would be incomplete without visiting the underground cities here. There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia and the widest one is Kaymakli underground city, while the deepest is the Derinkuyu Underground City. Walk through the low, narrow paths into the Kaymakli to witness the way people inhabited under strong weather conditions below the surface. Tunnels created in the underground city were used as cellars, storage areas and stables. It is interesting to see how the chambers were used best suited to the need of people living at the time.
As far as food is concerned, there are plenty of options in the Goreme town. When at one of the restaurants here, do ask for the local red wine, which is a must try. Definitely go local for the palate and try out the pottery kebap/kabab. I tried the mutton and chicken pottery kebap at the Old Cappadocia restaurant in Goreme town.
The best time to visit Cappadocia is from the end of April to June and September and October. The days are mostly warm and the nights are cooler during these months. The chances of rain is also little, however, during my visit in early May there was some downpour.