A practical and inspiring guide to Cappadocia in Turkey. First published in National Geography, Journeys of a Life: 500 of the World’s Greatest Travels.
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Arrival in Cappadocia, in central Turkey, comes back to a landscape of the Lord of the Rings. All around, the rocks were broken to get smooth curves, even curves, like cherry on a cake. From Göreme, the epicenter of the region, you can walk along the green slopes with sweet vineyards. Older men and women walk on goat tracks laden with firewood. Beyond the bustling orchards of fall, find yourself in fields of giant fossilized toads that dominate a crystalline sky.
The famous fairy chimneys of Cappadocia are the work of the top sculptor: Mother Nature. Time has transformed this volcanic terrain into a twisted lunar landscape, a topographic whim. The man followed the traces of nature and carved houses in these rocks. Some have been converted into luxury hotels, so book a room in a basement and live like seniors (with private baths). Stroll through the valleys and discover hundreds of churches, chapels and monasteries cut into the rock. Drive a shaky ladder to a dark entrance, enter the room, and your gaze will meet the faces of the saints who adorned the walls, arches, and columns of local Christians between 700 and 1300 years ago.
A balloon trip. Climb into the azure blue sky and contemplate the magical landscape.
Stay in a cave! Unleash your cavemen indoors and settle down in one of the troglodyte hotels in the area.
Hiking in the Ihlara Valley. Go to the edge of this natural gorge and you will see a green ribbon, a green oasis meandering through a rocky and dry nature. Stroll through its depths and encounter Byzantine churches carved into the rock walls.
Göreme open-air museum. Take the time to explore the ruins of this huge Christian complex and plunge into the sunshine to discover the cold, dark interiors of old churches painted with frescoes.
Explore an underground city. Under the dusty soil of Cappadocia are ancient cities, giant rabbit gardens and dozens of stories that have harbored people from the Hittite period to the Turks’ uprising.
When to travel to Cappadocia: Spring and Autumn. From mid-April to early June and from September to October are the best times to avoid the heat and the intense summer crowds. When it snows in winter, the place shines and shines even more.
How long do you need: At least three days to see the highlights or a week to lose yourself in the countryside.
Plan your trip: There are excellent tour operators who can help you arrange trips if you do not have your own means of transportation, but make sure they do not lead you to endless carpets and pottery. Free time for hiking at will.
Insider Information: Not all churches are. The landscape of Cappadocia makes it an ideal place for outdoor activities and offers more and more activities, from trekking to mountain biking, horse riding and white water rafting.