Goreme, Cappadocia – The Fairyland

Fairy chimneysthat’s what Cappadocia is famed for. No not man-made, no not those in children’s fables, no not a few in a garden for a birthday party! Spread all over the 100 sq kms of Goreme National Park (Central Turkey) and beyond, formed naturally from the volcanic ash of eruptions, the inner being the soft ‘tuff’ and the outer the harder ‘basalt’. Shaped over the years by wind and water erosion. Strangely, neighboring areas have different shaped formations – conical, phallic, animal shaped, those with pigeon holes and huge mounds hollowed into houses, churches with beautifully painted walls, castles and even underground cities (surprisingly bereft of mustiness). You can never say, you have seen one, you have seen them all.

Now imagine cruising over this rugged region in a hot air balloon at dawn in the mysterious gray light or speeding around in an ATV in the afternoon, from one valley to the other, provoking a decibel frenzy and a relentless dust storm or blissfully lounging at the high point of the town sipping a beer as the sun sets over the fairy chimneys during the magical golden hour.

Add to this a hike along the river, a bazaar with almost medieval artifacts, an Ice Cream vendor snazzily dressed up performing jugglery antics as he scoops the dondruma into a cone, a bath in a traditional Hammam with almost your skin being rubbed off your body, evening dinner with Ottoman cuisine and wine while watching a Belly Dance performance or a quiet meal by a huge fire and ending the day in a ‘cave hotel’.

Well, we were done with the ‘imagining’ and ended up at Goreme (adding to its population of 2000 people for a few days) in 2019 for a leisurely five-day stay as part of our two-week Turkey vacation! The desolate, windswept landscape of Spiti (in India) had intrigued us many years back but Cappadocia was different – mesmerizingly enthralling.

ATV Off Road (Quad Bike) Safari – Action, Adventure, Adrenalin Rush, Sweeping Panoramas! 

As you go through this section, all those who have indulged in ATV off-roading will experience nostalgia and those who haven’t, awe. None – boredom! Both will want to get on that mean machine immediately. Having go carted, a few rounds in an ATV in a limited periphery – never the wild countryside on challenging dirt tracks for 2.5 hours. Struck this off the bucket list, good and proper. Action, adventure, adrenalin rush, sweeping panoramas! 

We took a guided tour and on reaching our starting point were amazed to see about more than 100 ATVs parked! With more than a hint of trepidation we donned the helmet and dust mask meted out, as our group leader explained the simple working for operating the machine.

One of our most exciting afternoons in Cappadocia – an unforgettable, almost nomadic exploit – whizzing on a beastly Quad Bike through the intriguing and rugged valleys with its spectacular primeval formations, the result of tempestuous eruptions from aeons ago.

Enjoy below pictures from our afternoon safari where we came across the mysterious and artistic volcanic ash piles in Rose Valley and Red Valley, the phallic spires in Love Valley and the deserted churches and cave homes of Çavuşin village. It was as if each edifice had a story and was beckoning us to spend time in its shadow and unravel its dramatic anecdotes!

That’s Achal leading the group awhile with Ranjana just behind him.

It was a sea of ATVs tightly parked together, ready for the riders to board!

Ranjana certainly doesn’t seem to be a first time ATV rider!

Off-roading on the challenging dirt tracks.
The rugged terrain through which we navigated!
A bewitching landscape that almost defies belief!

The Rose Valley in Cappadocia is filled with huge, conical rocks and offers some of the region’s best hiking as well. The valley is particularly stunning in the late afternoon when the setting sun brings out the stones’ golden glow.
Abandoned churches and cave homes of Çavuşin Greek village. Surrounded by a wide valley, Cavusin is a fascinating land with unique dwellings carved in cliffs many now eroded by natural forces. An insight into a fascinating, culturally rich medieval era.

Love Valley, an expansive valley just beyond Göreme, is defined by stacks of distinctive eroded formations, craggy mountain ridges and vegetated earth. The phallic shapes and the pinkish hues romantically lends it the name – Love Valley.
The photo opportunities were numerous and we could not but help getting our pictures clicked on this exhilarating trip into the wilds of Cappadocia!

Behind Ranjana is the Rose Valley – specifically the spot from where we experienced the most radiant sunset in the enchanting Cappadocia, as the sun glided across the valley, casting its departing rays – the sky imbibing its unparalleled beauty even for many moments as the orange orb was lost beyond the horizon!

Hot Air Balloon Safari

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty fairy chimneys,
The hot air balloon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy skies,
The maverick couple came flying across the valleys of Cappadocia,
(A take from our school time poem, “The Highwayman”.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, 
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
– The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.

The Takeoff – A Surreal Experience!

The inflation of the hot air balloons in the pre dawn darkness with the fire throwing shadows was a captivating sight.

The best time to fly in a hot air balloon is at first light – the earlier you start, the better chances you have of experiencing a dreamy sunrise from up in the air!

We chose the first flight and were fortunate to encounter perfect weather conditions and we could watch a beautiful sunrise as we glided over the valleys of Cappadocia.

Its important to have an experienced pilot, which we had. Our balloon slowly and smoothly rose in the air and cruised at a low altitude for sometime giving us a close look at the fairy chimneys from the best vantage point we could have had.

There were a plethora of balloons in the air space offering everyone an aerial panorama of the phenomenal lunar like landscapes, volcanic ash structures in various shapes and shades – the famed fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. These sixty minutes in the air were one of the best times spent during our five days in Cappadocia as we traversed across the seemingly mythical terrain with its ghostly edifices!

Post-Flight Celebration

These pictures were taken by the other basket cases – those with whom we shared our flight!

The trip ended with a champagne toast! 

We were thrilled to be awarded flight certificates as well by our pilot.

Sunset Hill in Goreme

We came here just before sunset. The views from this point were absolutely stunning. We walked from our cave hotel in Goreme to the view point (one hill to the other) and it took us only a little over half an hour, negotiating the gradient was worth it. The fairy chimneys turned into an entrancing shade of peach as the sun vanished into the fairy landscape. Captivating views and magical hues left us spellbound!

On one side we were able to enjoy sweeping views of the tranquil valleys and on the other side….

…. vistas of the sprawling town and Uchisar Castle.
Innumerable photo opportunities.
Here a fellow traveler was only too ready to oblige. He knew what he was doing as he asked us to move and turn – the last rays of the sun fell beautifully on our faces as they also brilliantly lit up the hillocks below!

Cafes in Goreme

In Goreme, we discovered that there were many small cafes and eating joints within walking distance and each unique in its character and location. By this time, we had developed quite a liking for the traditional Turkish cuisine and both of us being foodies gorged on myriad dishes during our five days stay at Cappadocia.

Viewpoint Cafe

Viewpoint Café was one of the first places we ate at when visiting Cappadocia. We chose to sit in the open on the terrace and were bowled over by the fabulous views of the fairy chimneys. This was our first experience of dining with such a picturesque backdrop (captured by our server) and got us really excited for our stay in Cappadocia – a town so ancient and interesting!

The idyllic view of the stone houses of Goreme Town and Rose Valley from the terrace of Viewpoint Café was the highlight of this place.

We fell so much in love with the location of this eatery that we again ended up here for dinner!
The hospitality was impeccable – our server patiently suggesting dishes from the menu to providing light blankets as it got chilly on the open rooftop and of course this picture.
Also amongst other Turkish dishes that we sampled here, we tasted Ayran – a refreshing drink made of yogurt & water, somewhat similar to our buttermilk (lassi).

The sunset over the Rose Valley formed a beautiful backdrop from the Viewpoint Café Terrace.

My Mother’s Cafe & Restaurant

My Mother’s Café – A restaurant with a beautiful view, where we had lunch. 
The dining area of the restaurant was tastefully done in pastel blue and white colors complementing the décor.

Pasha Cafe

Pasha Café had a lively vibe and a crackling fire going which made sitting in the open with the radiating warmth absolutely snug. The fire with its dancing flames, the local band playing live, the authentic Turkish dishes, the glowing fairy chimney almost on top of our heads – the perfect place for our last dinner at Goreme, a lazy, languorous meal which we seemed in no hurry to finish!

Some Other Cafes in Goreme

There were some more interesting cave restaurants with terraces like the ones above – Organic Cave Kitchen and Dibek Cafe!

Shopping in Goreme Turkish Bazaar

We are not too much into shopping while on a trip to another country but no visit of ours is complete without wandering through the local bazaars and imbibing the atmosphere and buzz. However, in Goreme the traditional articles were so alluring that these jaunts ended up as splurging sprees for keepsakes – from ceramic plates and bowls with beautiful Ottoman designs, a clutch (with painted Turkish art), a Kilim Rug for our prayer area (Kilims are flat-weave rugs and are a truly remarkable tradition that has been maintained by the local people of Anatolia for tens of generations, dating back almost 9,000 years), scarves (artificial silk with traditional Turkish motifs), Jewelry (of semi precious stones and intricate design), the ubiquitous evil eye besides admiring the beautiful array of Turkish lamps, carpets and a plethora of curios on abundant display.

Iznik Tiles And Ceramic Art Of Turkey – Named after the town in western Anatolia where it was first made popular, Iznik pottery is revival of the vividly painted ceramics and tiles of the Ottoman Empire. The intricate decorations on the hand painted ceramics progressed from pure symmetry to subtle rhymes, incorporating ships, animals, trees, carnations, roses and of course, lots of tulips.

The perfection of Ottoman art lies in the pure balance of color, line and rhythm in geometric patterns and designs.
This shop had an interesting collection and we picked up some beautiful ceramic bowls and plates from here.

Ceramic Turkish pot, plates and cups at Goreme market in Cappadocia, Turkey
We found some great quality shops selling a wide variety of beautiful traditional wares. Ceramics occupy an important place with a profound and influential history in Anatolian Turkish decorative arts.

The ceramics of Iznik – patronized by the sultans were among the finest works of art in the Ottoman Empire. The technical quality, beauty and exquisite designs of this pottery made it one of the most popular and enduring art forms of the Islamic world.

Turkish Souvenirs On Display
Since Cappadocia is famous for Hot Air Ballooning, there were miniature balloons in baskets – a cute replica.

Variety of Colorful Turkish Glass Lamps for Sale
This is a picturesque city offering beautiful wares for visitors to buy. The markets were not very crowded and so we could easily spend time browsing and choosing things we liked.

Turkish Ice Cream and The Antics

Ice Cream vendor snazzily dressed up performing jugglery antics as he scoops the dondruma into a cone.
We had a good laugh at the ice-cream man’s shenanigans and fast hands.

Staying In A Cave Hotel With Views – A Dreamy Affair

While visiting this ancient and magical city, rather than staying in a regular hotel, we opted to stay in a ‘Cave Hotel’ which are ancient dwellings transformed into comfortable hotels, carved onto the volcanic hills of the region. We loved the idea of staying in a ‘cave’ and this experience of ours was truly unique and amazing.

Our hotel terrace was perfectly positioned to see the abundance of rainbow-hued hot air balloons soar into the sky at sunrise.
We chose to stay at Sakura Cave Hotel which was strategically located around 300 meters from the center of the town. Most places were about 20 minutes from each other.
The room had stone walls. It was surprisingly comfortable and even had a jacuzzi inside our cave room!
This was our private terrace just outside our ‘cave room’ with a view of the ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia!
Sakura Cave Hotel Dining
Turkish Salad – our favorite discovery in Turkey!
The Terrace of our hotel was a vantage point for watching all the hot air balloons in the sky from the morning rides. It upped our excited anticipation of the upcoming adventure in the sky too which we were to take the next morning!

I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before.
~ Eric Roth (American screenwriter)

We also took the Red and Green Tours from Goreme which were separate full day trips with engaging and knowledgeable guides taking us in a coach through the very fascinating Goreme Open Air Museum with lovely wall paintings and ancient churches, Devrent Valley (also called Imagination Valley) with beguiling rock formations in animal forms, Pasabag (also known as valley of the monks) with fascinating fairy chimneys and cave dwellings, Avanos where we were given a tour of a pottery factory running for 200 years through the generations – I was chosen from our group to try my hand and feet at pottery making on their traditional wheel, a beyond elaborate buffet lunch, Uchisar Castle located at Cappadocia’s highest point with hollowed rooms and passages at multiple levels. This was the Red Tour covering Northern Cappadocia.

Imagination Valley
Avanos Pottery

With the Green Tour we traversed through the South Western Part of Cappadocia – Ihlara Valley with a short trek along a stream, the incredible underground city of Derinkuyu, Selime Monastery (the biggest rock-cut monastery of Cappadocia with a cathedral sized church carved by the monks in the 13th century), ending at sunset at Pigeon Valley.

We could have spent a couple of weeks hiking through these areas and exploring them, each being more enchanting than the other! Instead we spent a few days in Fethiye by the Mediterranean Coast in the Aegean Region of South Western Turkey and a couple of days in Istanbul along the Golden Horn with a stopover at Pamukkale and Hierapolis in-between!

Keep travelling, keep having adventures, keep having new experiences!

Article Authored By: Achal Bindraban.
Page Design By: Ranjana Achal.
Pictures By: Achal and Ranjana and couple pics by fellow

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