Either you're an expat/local living in Istanbul, who wants to escape from the chaos of the city for a couple of days, or an avid traveler visiting Turkey, Cappadocia could be one of the top choices providing an authentic experience to relax, reset the mind & emotions, and have a clear perspective on life again.
Cappadocia in Summer
You can visit the region at anytime during the year though it will be a totally different experience depending on the season. It's mostly visited during the warm months of the year by domestic and international travelers. During winter, many hotels are closed due to the tough conditions of long snowy days.
Cappadocia in Winter
For beginners, Cappadocia is located at the very center of Turkey covering largely Nevsehir, Kayseri, Kirsehir, Aksaray, and Nigde provinces. The area was mainly dominated by three volcanoes (Erciyes, Hasan, and Melendiz mountains), which played a huge role in creating the famous fairy chimneys that Cappadocia is known for.
It was their eruptions, which covered the former plateau of Ürgüp in ash and mud some thirty million years ago, that provided the region’s raw material: tuff, formed by compressed volcanic ash. Erosion has worked on this soft stone ever since, to form the valleys and curious fairy chimney rock formations for which the region is so famous.
The original eruptions created a vast erosion basin, dipping slightly towards the Kızılırmak River, which marks an abrupt division between the fantasy landscapes of rocky Cappadocia and the green farmland around Kayseri.
Where the tuff is mixed with rock, usually basalt, the erosion process can result in the famous cone-shape chimneys: the tuff surrounding the basalt is worn away, until it stands at the top of a large cone. Eventually the underpart is eaten away to such an extent that it can no longer hold its capital: the whole thing collapses and the process starts again. Source
Where to stay:
You have 5 options, if you want to get the best out of Cappadocia: Ürgüp, Göreme, Uçhisar, Ortahisar, and Avanos, each providing a different experience.
Göreme is the most popular among all and attracts all types of travelers to the area. I'd say it's definitely more commercialized than the others. Ürgüp is the actual city, where the locals live. It's a combination of touristy and local stuff providing an urban experience, where you'll still be a part of the daily lives of locals. Ortahisar and Uçhisar are the most quiet places among all and they provide the most magical experience. Avanos is the small village located in the north and is known for their pottery culture.
How to get there:
By plane: Cappadocia doesn't have an airport, however, you can fly either to Kayseri airport or Nevsehir airport then take a shuttle (or) a bus from there. This is not going to be the cheapest option, but it won't be too expensive, if you can find a cheap ticket -- check prices for flights to Kayseri and to Nevsehir Airports to see which one will be cheaper. You'll have to take a shuttle from Nevsehir airport or Kayseri airport to Cappadocia. Either way, the shuttles will take about an hour to get to the area.
You can use Skyscanner to find the best deals for flights to above destinations.
By bus: Bus ride will take a long time guessing that you'll be coming from one of the large cities. For instance, it will take around 10-12 hours from Istanbul and the cost will be very similar to flight tickets unless you're traveling in high season. Check this detailed guide for further information.
By train: The Turkish high-speed trains (YHT) can take you from Istanbul or Ankara to Konya, the closest high-speed train station near Cappadocia, then you'll have to take a bus ride (~3.5 hours) to be able to get to Cappadocia. High-speed train website.
Things to do:
Here's a list of things that Cappadocia is known for:
- Hot Air Balloon Tours
- Underground Cities
- Open Air Museums (Göreme, Zelve)
- Pottery and Ceramics Workshops
- ATV, Motorcycle, Bicycle Tours
- Horseback Riding
- Authentic Turkish Nights
- Wine Tasting
- Historical Video Mapping Exhibits on Fairy Chimneys
Our Three Days in Cappadocia:
Ürgüp & Göreme are full of commercialized hotels and loud tourists, so we decided to stay in Ortahisar to enjoy the quiet and peaceful nights of Cappadocia. We thought we could easily rent a motorcycle and transportation would not be difficult at all.
Ortahisar castle is located at the center of the town and is visible from almost all the hotels in Ortahisar.
Luckily, our hotel, Hezen Cave has great views of the castle from its multiple balconies and terraces. We definitely enjoyed having breakfasts and drinks with this great view. We arrived at the hotel mid-day and welcomed by their friendly staff who gave us a quick tour of the hotel and instructions. We immediately realized that Hezen Cave didn't have an overwhelming Ottoman interior design elements like other hotels in the area (Designed by Halide Didem Kurt). It was very minimal and had a home feel to it. One of my favorite things about this hotel is its balconies and terraces, giving almost everyone a private space while enjoying the views and the quiet atmosphere of Cappadocia at the same time. If you need to get some work done, perhaps working with a laptop on the terrace would be a great option.
During the orientation, we learned that Hezen Hotel staff leave the premises towards the midnight making the entire hotel turn into an almost Airbnb rental. They are staying very close to the hotel and reachable immediately to respond any need of their guests, however, it makes all the guest feel like they are staying at home. They trust their guests by default and let them use anything at the bar during the night. All you need to do is let them know what you used during check-out. This made us feel like home, and get excited about making our own cocktails that night.
The hotel offers open buffet breakfast and home-made dinners for its guests using local ingredients. The kitchen staff is very friendly and you even join them for a quick chat as they cook meals for the guests.
The rooms are quiet and have a minimal interior design, which I really liked. Also, they are quite different than regular hotel rooms due to their own sitting areas in addition to bedrooms.
The only thing that was a problem during our stay was the internet connection in our room. Apparently, the routers were recently upgraded in the hotel and they needed a quick fix. We were able to use it in the lobby or from our cellphones. The management works very professionally and they cared about everything during our stay, so I'm sure it's already fixed.
Watching the sunset:
After we checked-in to our room, we asked for the best sunset spot nearby. The hotel management suggested that we should visit Kizilvadi Panoramic View Point. We also grabbed a bottle of locally-made white wine from the hotel with glasses, and nuts. Since, we didn't have any means of transportation, the hotel staff gave us a ride to the sunset point -- epic level of hospitality. 👌🏻
Kızılvadi (Red Valley), like its name, had an amazing red & orange sky during the sunset. It was a timeless moment while we watched the sun set and witnessed the fairy chimneys played shadow games with each other. The wine tasted even better..
After drinking half of our bottle, we decided it'd be healthy to walk back to the hotel (around 45 min). It was only a few minutes after we started discussing maybe it'd better to catch a cab back or hitchhike, a safari jeep stopped right by us. This is how magical Cappadocia is. 💫
Naz and Mustafa (Mustafa from Ürgüp, Naz from Switzerland with roots from Turkey & Palestine) gave us a ride back to the town center of Ortahisar.
Hitch-hiking in Cappadocia is very easy.
To me, the best way to experience a place is to get lost in it. We started walking from Ortahisar Castle to our hotel and started to go down the hills through cave hotels.
Cave hotels are give a magical feel when you walk through their gardens, terraces. It was a like a fairytale.
We were already tired from our flight combined with our shuttle ride. Then the sweet Cappadocia wine kicked in, and we were ready for bed before midnight. It just worked fine actually, because we had a balloon tour booked early in the morning.
Balloon tours are one of the most enjoyable and most preferred experiences one can have in Cappadocia. It's hard to find a spot last minute, so I suggest you book your tour weeks ahead and for the first morning after your arrival b/c sometimes tours are cancelled due to weather conditions. That way, you can have an option to reschedule it before you leave Cappadocia.
We were lucky and the weather was perfect the next morning. Royal Balloons shuttle came to pick us up at 5:15am. 🙀
We felt so lucky that we were flying with Royal Balloon b/c it is a company with an amazing crew, which never had any accidents. They really care about the experience of their customers, so they make sure to always fly with less than full capacity. On our 18+1 size balloon, there were barely 10 people on it giving enough room to everyone.
First we went to their office to have an open buffet breakfast and meet the other travelers. That's when we met our friend Silvio from Mar Del Plata, Argentina. He was having a solo trip around Europe and decided also to do the pilgrimage tour in Turkey, then added a short Cappadocia trip to it.
The hot air balloon is one of the oldest form of flying technology with a simple principle of rising in the air due to the hot air in the balloon lifting it up. You can only go up or down or twist with the help of air vents in the balloon. So, it heavily depends on the wind to have a nice journey in the air. Our pilot picked a location near lovers valley to take off. Our take off location was away from the other balloons so we were able to have a more exciting view flying over the hills while rising.
We had an unforgettable hour in the air watching the valley, other balloons, and many tourists trying to capture movie-like scenery from the hills.
Professional crew of Royal Balloons made us feel safe. They were very hard at work, but never lost their sense of humor. 🎈
After we landed, we had a celebration with champagne and mimosas. Royal Balloon gave each of us a medal while telling us about the backstory of having champagne after the flights. In 1783, when the first air balloon carrying people scared the villagers watching it sail in the air (it is said that they were also scared by the fire flying in the air), the crew wanted to break the ice with the crowd waiting them to land. At the end of the flight, the flight crew gave champagne to the villagers to celebrate together.
Thanks to those villagers, we really enjoyed the champagne at 7am. 🥂🍾
We said "Chau!" to Silvio and other friends we made on the tour, then head to our hotel to get some rest. We were tipsy and UP, but it was still too early to start our journey in Cappadocia.
Public transportation is very complicated in Cappadocia, and it's advised to have your own vehicle -- some travelers either come with their own vehicles, or rent at the airport. We decided to rent a motorcycle to make it more convenient and fun. There's another option -- renting an ATV. You can either rent it solo or join ATV tours run by local agencies and guides.
Our hotel recommended us Hitchhiker to rent a motorcycle and gave us a ride there. We rented a 125cc Yamaha motocross and started riding to the closest underground city, Kaymakli. If you like riding motorcycles, you should definitely ride around the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia. 🛵
There are around 200 underground cities in Cappadocia. The two main reasons for these underground cities to develop are protection and storage. The largest two UG cities are Derinkuyu and Kaymakli. Derinkuyu has a depth of 85mt and has around 13 levels, however, tourists can only visit the top 8 floors. There are 52 water wells and that's how Derinkuyu (Deep Well) was named. We decided to visit Kaymakli b/c it was the closest one to us. Kaymakli is almost the half-size of Derinkuyu with 8 floors --only 4 floors are open for public. The first floor was used as a barn to give animals access to the outside world easily -- and perhaps to keep the odor away. 👃🏼
Barns are connected to churches and homes through the tunnels within the city. The most interesting part of the underground city is the copper workshop. It is estimated that around 5000 people were living in Kaymakli city. We really enjoyed our time in the underground city even though sometimes we were stuck in the narrow tunnels giving us moments of claustrophobia.
The underground cities are definitely the must-have experiences in Cappadocia. Please note that there are five more UC you can check out in Cappadocia -- each of them has something unique to offer. We thought seeing only one of them was sufficient for us and decided to head to back to Göreme to see the Love Valley.
This beautiful valley is heavily loaded with the fairy chimneys. It was one of our favorite rides in Cappadocia. It's original name is Bağlıdere Vadisi (Bağlıdere Valley), however, there's almost an unspoken rule in Turkey, which makes people rename places by adding the word "Love", if the place has even a little romantic feel to it. Perhaps its name has changed and adapted due to locals calling it "Love Valley" over time.
The valley's layout is pretty much straight, and almost 5K long, making it standout from typical wide open valleys in the area. It is more exciting to see the fairy chimneys gathered in a row, and ride along them. You can hop off your vehicle and walk around them at ease. We rode around the valley for a couple of times and we really enjoyed watching it from different angles.
For our last stop, again, we hit the road. Biking around Cappadocia is a lot of fun. Here's a glimpse of how it feels to ride on a bike here.
Hezen Cave Hotel is owned by Murat Güzelgöz, also the owner of an authentic carpet store in Ürgüp -- Le Bazaar D'Orient. We decided to pay a visit to him to check out some authentic handmade carpets and listen to his dad's, Mustafa Güzelgöz, story -- one of the most influential public figures in Cappadocia. When we got to Ürgüp, we realized that it's the most developed town in the area where majority of the locals reside. It was almost getting dark and we had a task in hand, so we didn't get a chance to do sightseeing.
Murat Güzelgöz welcomed us with the smile in his eyes (like his last name suggests - it literally means beautiful eyes). We entered Murat's amazing store and started checking out carpets, rugs, and antique material while having Turkish tea.
Everything in the store is handmade and naturally dyed. We started exploring all the rugs from different regions of Turkey as well as nearby regions.
Kilims, Soumaks, Carpets, Arabis, Suzanis.. We were overwhelmed with watching and touching these amazing pieces human brilliance turned into material.
We learned that silk carpets have around 144 knots per centimeter square. 🤓
It takes months to complete these carpets and some of them like Arabi, is not made for the last 50 years.
Then, Murat showed us upstairs, where he turned the entire floor into a museum filled with other carpets & antiques he's been collecting over the years.
Later we learn that he lived in Paris in the 80's and worked at a carpet store for 6 years. That's where he met his wife, Bernadette (in the photo below), and moved back to Turkey with. They have a daughter, a student studying Byzantine studies, and a son, a mathematician.
Suddenly, Murat pulled out his saz and started playing a local tune for us. He's a actually a fantastic player who performed in Nantes at a concert back in the day.
During our visit at Murat's store, we learned more about his dad. We took notes about him but it grew bigger in us after we left the store. We decided to do some research after we get back to Istanbul and write about this brilliant person in the history of humanity.
The Librarian on Donkey (Eşekli Kütüphaneci)
This is an inspiring but also a sad story of a young librarian that took place between the 40's through 70's. At the age of 23, Mustafa Güzelgöz, a youngster who just completed his military service and turned back to his village finds himself working for the local library, Ürgüp Tahsin Ağa Kütüphanesi. It doesn't take long until he comes to understanding that the locals were not interested in the books nor visiting the brand new library.
He tries to promote the library to locals, invites them personally, but nothing changes. He ends up sitting at the library full of books by himself day after day.
This really annoys Mustafa, filled with passion for promoting the books to the local population with low literacy rate. After dealing with some bureaucratic barriers, finally he convinces his superiors to purchase a donkey and two large wooden boxes to build a new concept, The Donkey Library. 180-200 books were able to fit in those boxes letting him go from village to the next delivering books to all villagers at every age.
He leaves a sign at the library "We're only open on Monday & Friday", and continues delivering books to villages on donkeys 3-days per week. Each time he gets to a village the children are surprised to see this Turkish Santa Claus bringing them books with his donkey.
"Kids, read these books and exchange them with your friends. I'll be back in 15 days. Make sure to take good care of the books, your friends from other villages will also be reading them."
As Mustafa becomes more famous among the locals, the kids start reading more and more books that he brings to them. Eventually, the library also starts attracting people, however, Mustafa realizes that there aren't many women visiting the library. So, he reaches out to Singer and Zenith, two of the largest sewing machine brands widely available in Turkey at the time. He offers to promote their brands at the library with large banners, if they donate machines to the library. Eventually he convinces them to sponsor and gets one machine from Singer, nine from Zenith. The machines attract local women interested in sewing their home textiles with these latest machinery. The high demand results in long queues with women waiting for the next available machine. He gives those women books to read while waiting in line, and realizes that not all the women are literate. Again facing another obstacle, Mustafa starts literacy workshops for women.
He doesn't stop there and conducts a series of activities like folklore studies, photographing, cinema, band, carpeting at the library. He also becomes a leader of cooperative system in the region initiating local cooperatives for grape & wine production.
His work gets an international recognition when American Peace Volunteers Foundation awards him with Service to Humanity Award (Europe) in 1963.
Time after time, the government officials get annoyed with this brilliant man changing the world for better. An inspector was assigned to start a case against Mustafa where he was charged with conducting excess activities outside of his job description and gaining income using government facilities. At the age of 50, Mustafa was forced to retire ending all of his activities. [Original Story in Turkish]
That night, we took to our beds everything we learned that day. Among all, Mustafa Güzelgöz's story was perhaps the one we remembered the most when we closed our eyes trying to sleep..
Open Air Museums:
As one of the most important and earliest centers of Christianity in Anatolia, Cappadocia is also famous with its open air museums housing hand carved churches and monasteries located inside caves.
Göreme 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.
I've been to Cappadocia recently and have visited Göreme Open Air Museum. So, we decided to visit Zelve Valley on our last day, instead. It's located between Göreme - Avanos, so we hit the road to have a quick visit to Avanos village, first. During our quick tour around Avanos, we rode through Çavuşin village, and reached the shores of Kızılırmak River, the longest river in Turkey. Riding our motorcycle around the pottery makers, famous Avanos bridge, and traditional Anatolian homes of Avanos was a lot of fun, but we were ought to go to the epic Zelve Open Air Museum asap.
Zelve Open Air Museum:
The museum was named after Zelve Valley – zelve is the name of the long stick that is placed between oxes that are used for plowing fields. This valley is one of the oldest settlements in Cappadocia and was an important settlement and religious area between 9th and 13th century for Christianity. Christians moved to Zelve during the Persian and Arab invasion. The famous churches in the area, Balıklı Kilise (Fish), Üzümlü Kilisi (Grapes), and Geyikli Kilise (Deer) date pre-iconoclastic period. There's also a mosque in the valley.
Once of the most interesting things in the valley is the dovecotes carved into the hills.
Until 1924, the population exchange made between Turkey and Greece, the Muslim and Christian societies lived together in the valley. Then, it was only the Turkish villagers living in the cave homes until it was decided that the area was no longer safe due to rock collapse around 50's, and the valley became a museum, then a UNESCO World Heritage along with Göreme Open Air Museum.
Up until recently, all tunnels in the valley were open to public, but rock collapses caused some tunnels to be closed. This was perhaps the most beautiful and fairytale place we've encountered during our vacation. For three hours, we've entered caves, walked in tunnels, climbed rocks, walked along the valley, then sat back and relaxed while eating a toast and chatting with a local tour guide and the public parking officer.
We jumped on our bike and head back home.. On the bike, I was thinking that this trip not only made us forget about Istanbul and its chaos, but actually it made us forget time. We found ourselves hiking in cave tunnels, almost flying around the fairy chimneys (thanks to our motorcycle), and got lost around Cappadocia. We looked at the sun more than we checked our phones, we saw more horses than cars, we saw caves more than apartment buildings during this 3-day trip. This was my third time visiting Cappadocia and Kaan's first, but definitely won't be the last..