Fairy chimneys that take on an eerie quality in the winter sun. Volcanic valleys harboring vestiges of ancient civilizations. Hiking trails as smooth as Tartan track. Mysterious tunnels and fresh oxygen-rich air… Set in a volcanic triangle of snow-capped peaks, Cappadocia’s fairytale valleys present landscapes of extraordinary beauty in winter. Like a Stone Age settlement on the slopes of a giant fairy chimney, Uçhisar is the region’s natural fortress. This charming village only 10 kilometers from Nevşehir is famous for its antique shops and boutique hotels. Next to it stretches the Valley of Pigeons, a long, deep canyon that intrigues with its pigeon nests carved in the rocks. This mysterious valley sheltering 8th and 9th century rock churches is laced with natural tunnels carved out by flowing streams. Easily negotiable by man and horse, the tunnels make ideal trails for photographers and hiking enthusiasts. You can get a bird’s-eye view of the region’s most stunning valleys on the close to 3-kilometer-long Uçhisar-Göreme road. And Göreme Open Air Museum, one of the highlights of any Cappadocia tour, is only a kilometer away. Scattered through this museum on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List are numerous monasteries carved in the rock including a monks’ refectory, burial chambers and a wine cellar. The pigments in the murals inside the rock-cut churches, the newest of which dates to the 12th century, are as vivid as if they were painted yesterday.
One of Cappadocia’s oldest settlements, Avanos is another must-see. As the giant monument at the entrance announces, this town has been a center of pottery making since the time of the Hittites. You can stop at one of the many workshops here on the banks of the Kızılırmak River and try fashioning a vessel yourself with the help of an expert. Meanwhile, one of the local architectural masterpieces is Saruhan, a 13th century Seljuk caravanserai. Avanos’s next door neighbor Çavuşin with its rock-cut houses and historic temples will offer you pleasant hours of sightseeing. And Kızılçukur Valley further along the road through Çavuşin is a favorite spot for Cappadocia sunset and full moon outings.
Paşabağı Valley with its exceptionally beautiful fairy chimneys and Zelve, famous for its open air museum, are two more major sightseeing venues in the vicinity. The region’s oldest and most elegant stone houses meanwhile are at Sinasos five kilometers from Uçhisar. You won’t be able to take your eyes off these centuries-old structures as you tour the historic settlement, known today as Mustafapaşa. Attracting notice recently for its comfortable small hotels, Sinasos’s graceful mansions, garden houses and local cuisine will intrigue you. A little further on, Gomeda Valley with its magnificent natural setting reminiscent of a film set is another must on your sightseeing list. Like Ihlara, the area’s geological treasure, this valley promises hours of enjoyable hiking. And now for perhaps the most exciting part of any Cappadocia tour. We decide to look for some of the many underground cities carved in the soft tufa stone, of which there are some two hundred large and small in the area. The largest is Derinkuyu, said to have at one time sheltered some twenty thousand people.
Two more among the underground cities, most of which are open to visitors, are Özkonak north of Avanos and Kaymaklı, 19 kilometers south of Nevşehir. In sum, there is no shortage of places to see in the region, so be sure to budget your time and energy. What else? Well, taking long strolls among the shapely, snow covered fairy chimneys, staying overnight in a real cave house carved out by human hands, gazing at the stars from a deserted terrace, eating breakfast as dawn stains the valleys crimson, hunting for traces of human settlement in the miraculous labyrinths of the underground cities… Reasons are rife for you to delve into the soul of Cappadocia and become passionately attached.
Reminiscent of a lunar landscape with its rock formations and fairy chimneys, Cappadocia is popular with travelers keen to merge dream with reality. The region’s largest natural fortress, Uçhisar, and the houses that spread over its slopes have a different kind of beauty in winter. There is no shortage of reasons for taking photographs at Sinasos (Mustafapaşa), famous for its birghtly colored doors. The historic mansions in the area meanwhile could double as a film set.
You may encounter fairy chimney figures even on house numbers in Ürgüp! The underground cities are another kind of structure unique to Cappadocia. Built to protect the tribes of the region from danger, many of these multi-level settlements are open to visitors today. Known as the Land of Beautiful Horses, Cappadocia’s enchanting valleys are most enjoyably explored on a horseback safari. Riding lessons are also available for newcomers to the region.
Some 15 kilometers along the Aksaray-Nevşehir road, the Ağzıkarahan Caravanserai is also known as Hoca Mesud Han. This structure, construction of which was undertaken in the 13th century, exhibits the characteristic features of Selcuk art.
Combining comfort with history and the sheer beauty of nature, Cappadocia is spearheading the future of tourism in Turkey. The long-abandoned stone mansions and caves are being converted into some of the world’s most exclusive hotels with an elegance distilled from ancient cultures.
The local cuisine bears the hallmark of Ottoman cooking. Testi kebab (meat cooked in a clay pot), lamb chops with currant and pine nut flavored pilaff, hummus with Turkish-style pastrami, stuffed eggplant, Nevşehir ravioli and eggs with honey are just a few of the local specialties.
The region is also rich in shopping opportunities. Handwoven carpets and kilims, handmade cloth dolls, colorful pottery and ceramic items and antiques are among the treasures you can pick up in Cappadocia.
There are many rock hotels in Cappodocia that are listed among the world’s best. Boutique hotels known around the world for creating new concepts of comfort await you in Uçhisar, Ürgüp, Göreme and Sinasos.
You can also join in either day or overnight jeep safaris in Cappadocia, which boasts gravel roads suitable for off-road activities. These tours, which follow the undulating volcanic terrain, include visits to the underground cities.
Seeing Cappadocia from the air is an inimitable experience, and there are numerous travel agents who arrange hot air balloon tours at Göreme and Ürgüp. Taking off at dawn, the balloons stay aloft for close to an hour.
An intensive monastic life went on in the region between the 4th and the 13th centuries in such places as the Women’s and Men’s Monastery, the Church of St. Basil, the Church of the Apple, the Church of St. Barbara, the Church of the Serpent, the Church of Darkness, the Church of the Sandal, and the Church of the Buckle, all of which are still standing today.
Make Your Own Pottery
Avanos has been a pottery center since the time of the Hittites. The key factor in the survival of this craft from one people to another is the soft, oily clay found in the former beds of the Kızılırmak River. Kneaded to the right consistency, the clayey soil is then shaped on a traditional pedal-powered potter’s wheel. And one of the special features of the workshops at Avanos is that you can make your own piece of pottery.
Cappadocia is virtually the capital of handwoven Anatolian carpets and you can find some outstanding specimens here. Made with natural dyes, these carpets are rich in motifs and colors.
How about fishing in a canoe on the Kızılırmak? Day tours set out from Bozca near Avanos, returning after lunch at Sarıhıdır.
A place of worship for 1500 years, the historic linseed press (Bezirhane) on Kayabaşı Street in Uçhisar is a concert venue today. This structure plays host to numerous events throughout the year. With its remarkable acoustics and giant domes.
Nevşehir with its many Ottoman monuments, most notably a mosque and a bath, used to be called Muşkera. İbrahim Paşa, who was born here in the 17th century assumed the title of Damad (Son-in-Law) when he married the daughter of Sultan Ahmed III. Decking Muşkera with architectural masterpieces, this pasha changed the city’s name to Nevşehir (New City).
Mercan Dede Musician
“To me Cappadocia means the flapping of pigeon wings echoing down the enchanted valleys. This is a place that purges one of modern life’s chaotic effects and puts one in touch with one’s inner voice. To all who go there I recommend hearing a violin recital played in the miraculous acoustics of an underground cave and watching the changing colors reflected on the fairy chimneys”