The lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia

June 16, 2017
Julia D'Orazio

Cap a what now?Kap-ah-dok-yah.

It can be a hard one to pronounce, but make every effort to get it right as this enchanting part of the world is one that you will never forget. Turkey’s grand natural wonder of the world, Cappadocia, makes you feel like you have lifted off into the atmosphere and landed on the moon with its lunar landscapes in the heart of the country. With such spectacular topography, a visit here will leave you feeling like you had a heavenly adventure.

This ‘slice of space’ is really one of a kind, with its futuristic-looking landscapes that actually date back over nine million years. Its extraordinary geography was formed as a consequence of three volcanic explosions (Hasan, Erclyes, and Melendiz), with the remnants spilled across hundreds of kilometres. With the combination of erosion and extreme weather conditions over time thrown in the mix, Cappadocia has become a surrealistic scene, littered with dusty orange fairy-like chimneys, valleys, and honeycomb-looking rock formations. It is also a place where the splendour of the landscape has forged a perfect marriage with the creative craftsmanship of humankind to carve out a place like no other.

There are so many varied historical, cultural, and outdoor activities to do and see in this spectacular part of the world. The central point of this region, Göreme, remains one of the world’s biggest cave dwelling complexes with its tanned brick thoroughfares scattered with uniquely hollowed boutique cave hotels. On a personal note, I was more than happy to be stuck in a cave for a few days because where else in the world would you be able to reside in a five-star cave?

hot air balloons over Cappadocia

One of the biggest tourism draws: hot air balloon rides over Cappadocia | Photo by Julia D’Orazio

Many come to Göreme as a base to do what this area is most famous for, hot air ballooning. (#localsknow hint: Our sister company Intrepid Travel can help set you up with a hot air balloon adventure on their Best of Turkey tour). Cappadocia is one of the top places in the world to go hot air ballooning due to its unparalleled otherworldly landscapes. Flights are restricted to 150 balloons daily, all varying in size from capsules holding 28 people to — if you are willing to splurge — two people. Flights depart just in time for a sunrise like no other over the rugged region.

Of course, what goes up must come down and a great way to cap off the sight of balloons filling the sky is to go underground. There are over 30 subterranean towns in Cappadocia, including the UNESCO-protected eight-storey underground city of Derinkuyu.

Located half an hour by car from Göreme, Derinkuyu dives 100 metres and was once home to a population of 20,000. This impressive underground city dates back to the ancient Anatolian times in the Hittites era (1200 BCE) and was occupied until the 13th century CE. It was rediscovered in 1960s by German archaeologists and was opened to the public in 1965. Despite only 20 percent of the city made available for public access, it still allows for visitors to explore its impressive labyrinth of tunnels funnelling to rooms that once were water wells, kitchens, elaborate churches, ventilation shafts, and livestock pens all caved out of rock. The extensive collection of spaces allowed for inhabitants to live a long period underground until it was deemed safe to return to ground level in times of conflict.

rocky caves in Cappadocia

Cappadocia is littered with cave dwellings worth exploring | Photo by Cappadocia Urban Adventures

Back on ground level, take it as gospel when I say that one place not to miss is a visit to the edge of the Ihara Valley. Reach for the hilltops and explore the Selime Monastery, which dates back to the 8th and 9th centuries. It took over 200 years to sculpt the region’s biggest fortress-like monastery into the celestial landscape and it even features a cathedral-sized church on its hillside location. Step in and marvel at the remains of ancient biblical artwork embellished along its walls and ceilings that has stood the test of time.

Beyond the caves, Ihlara Valley is another side of Cappadocia worth exploring. Hike (or just casually stroll) through the Turkish outback and relish the spectacular setting. Feel like a small fish in a big pond while soaking in the views and dipping your toes in the shallow stream.

But the truth is, my words can’t even do justice to the majestic scenery of the region. The extra-terrestrial-like landscapes combined with its ancient history makes for a vacation to phone home about.

Now what was the name of that place again?