Trip to Turkey: Cappadocia and Istanbul

Visit Turkey to Explore Cappadocia’s Fairy Chimneys and Istanbul’s Markets

Amid whimsical fairy chimneys and rocky caves, it’s hard to tell what planet I’m on. Cone-shaped rock formations soar into the vermilion sky against a backdrop of volcanic peaks and rose-red cliffs. Looking at the unearthly landscapes, I imagine this is the land of hobbits and elves.

Such bold scenery has long been a hallmark of Cappadocia, the ancient Anatolian region in central Turkey. There is nowhere else in the world: deserts dotted with thousands of hoodoos, multicolored cliffs and staggering rock spiers resembling scenes from outer space. Much of Cappadocia lies on a high plateau over 1000m high, pierced by numerous volcanic peaks – which are perfect conditions for such a particular geology.

The Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia, Turkey.

That evening, I catch the sunset atop the cliffs surrounding the village of Göreme – a short walk from my cave hotel. I am surprised to find myself alone, with no one in sight except for the spectacular panorama. There is silence except for the occasional cry of a pigeon. I sit with my legs dangling over the viewpoint ledge, savoring the precious moment.

At dusk, I descend the slopes to the Göreme House Hotel. Part cave, part house, the atmospheric abode is a restored Anatolian house built from natural Cappadocian stone.

Staying at this family-run guesthouse is an experience in itself – not just for the hospitable staff and the rustic cave interior, but for the million dollar view from my window. The Goreme cliffs are the last thing I see at night and the first thing I wake up to in the morning.

Destination guide: Turkey
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The next day, I venture into the valleys with Halis, the hotel manager who volunteers to be my guide for the day. Our first stop: Pigeon Valley, a deep, steep-sided gorge mapped with a network of hiking and biking trails. From above, it looks like a giant maze segmented by weathered towers.

We meet a group of Austrians on a cycling holiday in Cappadocia. “We have cycled in many parts of the world, but this has to be one of the most amazing places we have ridden,” they say.

Continuing our journey further south, the rugged landscapes begin to give way to green, flat land. The beige cliffs are replaced by vast vineyards and pumpkin patch.

At Kaymakli village, we stop to visit the largest underground city in Cappadocia, a UNESCO site dating back to the 4th century. We navigate through narrow tunnels and steep rock-cut stairways to explore the three floors of living spaces, stables and churches.

“This underground city was built by early Christians as a refuge during religious persecution. Given its size, it must have housed a large underground population,” says Halis.

The route further south is hauntingly beautiful, but poles apart. Vast fields of apricot trees line the road before it turns into a winding canyon. Villages topped with rock-hewn churches rise atop undulating slopes. This is the Soganli Valley, best known for its many Byzantine cave churches and works of art. “It’s one of my favorite places in Cappadocia to bring visitors,” says Halis. “It’s the less traveled area and off the tourist trail.” He’s right – we’ve left civilization behind and gone back in time.

Soaring in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia at sunrise is both sensory and superlative overload: the kaleidoscope of colors, the wispy clouds hanging low, the patchworks of green groves and brown valleys have me buzzing with delirium.

Cappadocia is one of the best hot air balloon spots in the world, thanks to its eerily unique landscape and favorable weather conditions. Halis, who is also a hot air balloon pilot, takes us into the cyan sky. Soaring languidly above the hoodoos, we move away from solid ground and closer to the clouds.

Below me, hundreds of hot air balloons dominate the Cappadocian skyline. I feel like I’ve entered Narnia – a fantasy world.

Ancient Mount Nemrut, Tukey
Ancient Mount Nemrut, Tukey.

The best ancient sites in Turkey

Ancient city of Esphesus

As one of Turkey’s most important ancient sites, this sprawling city near Selçuk features well-preserved ruins, including the iconic Library of Celsus, huge amphitheater and marketplace. It was once the second largest city in the Roman Empire, with a population of around 250,000 people.

Mount Nemrut

At the top of this 2,134 meter high mountain located in southeastern Turkey are large stone statues believed to have been erected by King Antiochus in 62 BC. These statues of the king, animals and Greek gods were supposed to be part of a royal tomb, which were deliberately destroyed by the iconoclasts. The heads of the statues are now scattered throughout the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Archaeological site of Troy

The factual and legendary city of Troy was located in northwestern Turkey, and now its archaeological site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Troy is best known for being at the center of the Trojan War, as depicted in Homer’s book “Iliad”. The archaeological site is in the province of Çanakkale where the “wooden horse” from the 2004 film Troy is on display.

Hierapolis of Pamukkale

Perched atop the white travertine pools of Pamukkale, the impressive remains of the ancient Greco-Roman city feature Roman-era ruins, a poisonous spring called Plutonium, and a sacred thermal pool you can swim in with ancient artifacts . Located in the province of Denizli in southwestern Turkey, Hierapolis is said to have been founded by the god Apollo.

Aphrodisias

Once the capital of the Roman province of Caria, Aphrodisias is an ancient city built in the 4th century. The vast ruins of Aphrodisias are equally impressive with a major stadium, an extensive market and the popular shrine dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Thanks to its inland location west of Denizli, this ancient site is much less frequented than Esphesus.

Explore Istanbul, Turkey
Explore the capital of Turkey, Istanbul.

Understanding Turkish Culture: Istanbul

In Istanbul, ancient mosques and souks are just a bridge away from skyscrapers, ultra-chic bars and boutiques. I’m taking a crash course in Turkish culture with Istanbul resident Haty.

Tea time

After playing hopscotch around Istanbul’s main sights – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern, we indulge in the favorite Turkish pastime: drinking tea. In Sultanahmet, Haty takes me to the famous teahouse, Dervi Aile Çay Bahçesi. Sipping steamy cay and smoking hookahs (waterpipes), we lounge on comfy rattan chairs and watch people play backgammon in its leafy courtyard.

I can easily understand why they are addicted to tea. Since the 18th century, tea has been a fundamental part of Turkish social life. Haty tells me why: “There is a Turkish proverb that says: ‘Caysiz sohbet, aysiz gok yuzu gibidir’”. Conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon. Indeed.

Souk and see

Then we head to the Grand Bazaar to conquer Istanbul’s famous souk.

Beneath domed ceilings, the alleyways are lined with dizzying rows of stalls selling jewelry, pottery and carpets. The blinding light and colors of the lantern shops enhance my scenes while the smell of perfume mesmerizes me into a trance. The smells wafting from the bread ovens and kebab stalls lead me deeper into the maze – until I reach the succession of antique shops where a brass bowl catches my eye. “In Turkey, you have to negotiate, no matter what you buy,” warns Haty.

“200 lira for the pretty lady,” the cheeky bearded salesman says, via Haty’s translation. I heed Haty’s advice and after five minutes we settle for half the original price he offered and walk away with a bowl in our hands and smiles on our faces.

Turkish baths

Haty guides me to Sultanahmet Hamami Turkish Bath in the historic Sultanahmet district. “The Turkish bath has been a tradition in Arab culture since the 14th century; today it is still an integral part of modern Turkey. I often come here with friends to hang out and relax,” says Haty.

Inside, I meet my tellak: a stern middle-aged woman, with a scrub in her hand and sweat dripping down her red face. She demands that I take off my red and white cloth. Uh oh… I’m completely naked. After motioning for me to lie down on the large marble stone in the center of the room, she slams a bucket of foaming hot water over my body before rubbing me from head to toe with a firmness that borders on brutality. . Haty sneers, watching my tortured expression. But as shocking as the scrub experience is, in the end, I feel refreshed and elated, and as light and dizzy as a balloon.

Essential information

When should we go: April-mid-June and September-October are the best times to travel in good weather. Cappadocia is generally cooler than the coastal area.
Getting There : Fly from Heathrow to Kayseri via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines (return fares from £345).
Accommodation: Room rates at Göreme House Hotel start from £60 including breakfast and tax (goremehouse.com). Hot air balloon rides and tours can be arranged with the hotel.
Get more information: tourismturkey.org

–Nellie Huang