Turkey is a country that constantly juxtaposes the reverent mysticism and progressive modernity. The call to prayer interrupts a wave of commuters during rush hour, women in hijabs walk between tourists holding selfie sticks. The solemn and unwavering countenance of Ataturk presides over a nation still plagued by hypocrisy, chaos, and confusion. because of its turbulent history, volatile location, and relentless drive to hold on to tradition while remaining competitive in a perpetually modernized world, Turkey has been plagued by conflict for much of its history. conflict that has so unfortunately escalated recently. Let that not keep us from going, because conflict and terrorism wins when we close the curtains and hide in our seemingly safeguarded homes. The best defense we have is to break down barriers, to open our minds, to eliminate stereotypes, keep moving.
so when you decide to go to Turkey, spend some time in Anatolia in the city of Cappadocia. be charmed by the people, captivated by the landscape, and completely lost in a land that is so magical it doesn’t seem real. take the balloon photo and then do everything else there is to do there.
and start here my friends: your 3-day guide to Cappadocia.
There’s more to this land than instagram-worthy hot air balloons. Cappadocia is an otherworldly region in central turkey consisting of multiple small villages situated in a fairy tale-like setting. This, “the land of beautiful horses” got its tranquil, surreal landscape thanks to two volcanoes erupting and covering the rocky terrain with hot magma 60 million years ago. 60 million. Now the volcanoes have hushed and what is left is an arid snowscape of flowing stone, hidden caves, and jarring mountains dotted with charming villages, breathtaking views, and the relentlessly hospitable Anatolian people.
where to stay
Goreme Mansion, in Goreme, Capadoccia.
Almost all options here for accommodations are “cave hotels” which are exactly what they sound like- minus the stalactites and bats. While I can only share my experience at one of these enchanting chateaus, I feel that you really need to look no further. Goreme Mansion is located at the top of the hill in central Goreme. This charming 7-room hotel consists of three floors of open terraces and a rooftop with more than a view.
the hotel is located close to the village’s minaret (as, consequently, everything else in town) gives you a very Arabian wake up call at 542am but rather than abruptly waking you, it paints your dreams in a mystical light. Sleep with the windows open, because I almost guarantee you’ll miss this experience once you’re gone. The hotel provides a complimentary Turkish Breakfast from 730 to 9 every morning, and is all homemade by the “staff” here… which, by the way, isn’t a staff at all. Ali, the owner, grew up in this house and has been continuously updating and adding to the mansion to give guests the perfect taste of his hometown. His face is worn with then inimitable marks of years of laughter, kindness, and humility. Busra, who introduces herself immediately not by her position at the mansion, but insisting- “I am your sister. What’s mine is yours,” is the most hospitable person I’ve ever run into. She takes the time to explain and plan your stay for you, adding in anecdotes and histories of the land and people, making calls on the phone and to friends in the street to arrange activities, rides, and exclusive discounts. She is truly the magic of this place and defined the Anatolian experience here for me- kindness, humility, generosity, towards all who pass; an infectious generosity that you carry with you long after leaving.
The rooms are spacious, bathrooms are nearly spa-like, and overall feeling of the place is just as they intended- like home. (If home is in,a cave in a magical fairy tale and you are the queen and dine on coffees and olives all day. of course.) oh yeah, and this will put you back only $26 a night.
this is their address, believe it or not
Gaferli Mah., Şükrü efendi Sokak No:1, Nevşehir, Turkey
what to eat
Kebab in clay pots, from Sedef.
Sure, this is a bit of a novelty- but something yiu must try. Handmade pottery is abundant here due to the readily available clay from the red river, able hands, and arid climate. Meat and spices are placed in ceramics pots and cooked with fire underground, brought to your table, and then broken with a samurai-esque sword to release the most tender and flavorful kebab adventure you’ll experience in turkey. Served with fresh bread, tomato, onion, yogurt,cucumber, and all of it’s other friends, it’s a delicacy not to be missed.
I recommend Sedef, which is located at Bilal Eroglu Cad., in Goreme.
A real Turkish breakfast, anywhere.
Turkish breakfast is like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. A mixture of breads, cheeses, meats, yogurt, tomato, cucumber, olives, honey, jam, and pretty much anything else they can think of arrives on an array of plates and allows you to combine flavors on your fork to get your day started with a fresh variety of local fare. Don’t be shy either- you’ll need some energy.
Coffee or tea from the locals.
I love the rich cultural tradition of having tea or coffee in middle Eastern countries. Coffee in New York is more about maintenance than pleasure- give me my caffeine, give it to me to go, and let me keep moving toward my destination. Fast. Coffee in Europe is a social experience. Ask for it “to go” and you’re almost guaranteed to get a scowl in return. You are expected to take at least 15 minutes… So Sit. Sip. Enjoy. Take in the sites and sounds and smells of your surroundings, oh, and in case you aren’t tempted to stay, they give you a little treat to go with it! In Spain it’s savory, in France it’s sweet (case in point, this whole amazing concept of the cafe gourmand- amazing.) in Germany it’s kielbasa.
In the Middle East, coffee is an invitation. It’s a sharing of cultures. It’s a way of honoring and respecting each other, no matter where you are or where you’re coming from. Don’t say no if a shop owner offers you tea. Don’t politely decline when the man to the bazaar moves the tapestry aside and offers you to sit on the floor with him and hands you a mug. This is an opportunity. Be respectful, drink up, stay caffeinated. You can sleep on the plane.
what to do
Hot Air Balloon Ride
This is a given. There are about 30 different companies in town, all offering sunrise tours complete with breakfast, champagne toast, and a 2-hour drift, plus transportation to and from your place of stay. Be aware– if the wind is above 6km/hr, they will not risk going up. So plan to ride the first morning you arrive, so that if flights are cancelled, you will have another morning or two to try.
On the mornings not ballooning, wake before sunrise and hike Aydin Kiragi Sk. just behind Goreme Mansion to watch all the balloons (it’s usually about 200!) slowly fill with air and rise with the sun to color the landscape with bright, vibrant patterns among the arid pastel backdrop. This is not a recommendation. This is a command. This is also a perfect place to listen to the last call to prayer as the sun sets and nights falls upon Goreme.
Red Tour, Blue Tour, Green Tour.
I know- in a place this magical, somehow they’ve come up with the most uninventive nomenclature for these all-day adventures. Perhaps I’ll make some recommendations before I leave. Regardless, do one of these or both. They are well-worth the ~$40 price tag, which includes transportation, lunch, and a full 8 hours of site-seeing.
I chose the green tour,which takes you first to a monastery built way up into the side of a mountain. It was discovered when the outer layer of rock fell away to uncover a community of caverns made into kitchens, bedrooms, churches, and schools for the … People to seek refuge from persecution. Get lost, wander around, imagine eating around a 50-person stone table or worshiping in one of 5 remarkably complex fresco-adorned domed chapel caves. I mean really. How in the hell did they accomplish this when I have trouble determining the best way to eat a doner kebab without spilling its contents.
Two stops along panoramic cliff sides give you a peek at the rocky formations George Lucas used as a backdrop in Star Wars, an ancient cemetery laden with aged gravestones and distinct melancholic feel, and a chance to imagine what life was like living in stone houses in quaint communities centuries ago.
Next stop- a three course Turkish lunch outdoors with… a bunch of other tour groups. But, it’s good! And fun. Eat up. Have some local wine, which is surprisingly full-bodied considering the climate. From lunch, a 4km hike along the red river in the lush Ilhara Valley offers towering cliff sides, hidden caves, and a few charming riverside-hideouts to rest and wash your feet.
A 40 minute ride from there takes you to Derinkuyu to the underground city, an entire village built 75km below the ground also as a hiding place for Christians being persecuted during the Byzantine period. Not for those with claustrophobic tendencies, the narrow passageways, steep stairs, and hidden rooms offer a glimpse at a society determined to survive and maintain rich cultural and religious ties.
Finally, a stop at an onyx-carving shop offers a glimpse at an age-old craft and an opportunity to buy hand crafted jewelry and souveneirs rib where they are made. They’ll give you a good price if you smile. And you should be smiling anyway- you’re in cappadocia.
For the adventurers soul. While ballooning is daring yet passive, the experience of barreling through the rocky landscape of cappadocia on an ATV is not for the weak at heart. Don’t let this intimidate you though- for all of momentary hesitance and persistent shrieking, this two-hour tour ended up being one of my favorite parts of my visit. And for about $20/person, limitless views, unreachable landscapes and hidden villages can all be yours. I recommend …. And try to book a private tour for two to three people, rather than a big group.
Absolutely make time to do this. For about $20 you get a two-hour tour through breathtaking landscapes, up impossible hills and through a few small villages.
This is a stop on the red tour, but if you don’t have another full day to spend touring around, there’s a secret spot in town that offers private lessons from a master craftsman. Stop in at the pottery shop just at the northeastern corner of town for a very Ghost-like experience, minus Patrick Swayze. And the sex. But you get a charming little clay pot!
go forth, young travelers.