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Hot Air Ballooning near Goreme

Hot Air Ballooning near Goreme

Cappadocia is a place that should be on everyone’s bucket list for places to visit before we actually “kick the bucket”.

We visited at the beginning of June in 2013 for a couple of days, before heading out on  a sailing trip through Bodrum, staying in the town of Urgup at the boutique hotel Meleklerevi. A nice place with great hosts (Arzu & Muammer) who gave us plenty of great ideas of what to do and see while in Cappadocia. Muammer has a map  he can supply you with for all the places you should try to fit in while in Cappadocia. We were there for three days, which seems to be just about the right amount of time to get to know the area without rushing.

Cappadocia is famous for its interesting rock formations that just up vertically form the ground. They come in various sizes and styles, seemingly dependent upon which valley you happen to be in. In Goreme they are quite large, tend to be conical and are often referred to as Fairy Chimneys. In Urgup they are narrower and many have seem to have a large rock placed on top of them. In the Pasabag Valley they look rather phallic-like while in the Devrent Valley they can look like things such as animals, with a little imagination. The larger one’s have been carved into to creates homes for people, and many of these are hotels today. The people of Cappadocia also burrowed into the rock cliffs of the valley to create homes and many churches during the time when the area  was primarily Christian. And then when the Christians were being persecuted, they built homes underground. Large cities that could hold thousands of people at months at a time.

For our first day we took an organized tour with the Red Valley Travel Agency, called the “Red Route Tour”. I highly recommend it as it takes you to many of the places you really want to see, with a good amount of time to see the place and take pictures. The tour starts at 10AM and doesn’t finish until 6PM, and there’s a good lunch included as well for about $50 USD. It ends with a visit to a carpet shop, which actually may be the whole reason why the tour is so well priced. It’s all about delivering you to the carpet shop, something like a timeshare presentation! But still, it is worth it. A great tour and even the carpet shop part was very interesting, watching women make the carpets and learn about how it is all done. Well worth it actually.

On another day we rented a car and drove south to visit the Iharta Valley. There is a tour that goes there, but we wanted to take our time, have lunch where we wanted, and this worked out better. We took back roads to get there, enjoyed the landscape, and had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant in Belisirma that had lounges areas made out of wood over the stream that flows through the Iharta Valley. The stream creates a wind stream bringing a cooling breeze, which in hotter days is much welcome. Food was excellent.

Places worth visiting:

  • Goreme: Great town, probably where I would have preferred to stay. If I go back, I will. A number of hotels and people’s homes are inside the fairy-cone chimneys that rise rise throughout the town. Huge boulders scattered vertically with windows and doors on them.
  • Uchisar Castle: From the center of Uchisar rises what may have been the first apartment building, made completely out of rock. Uchisar Castle can be seen from nearly all parts of Cappadocia, and still has people living within some of its carved out rooms.
  • Goreme Open Air Museum: A little touristy and crowded but very interesting. Probably the place that has the most information provided, in English, of how these caves and churches originated.
  • Imagination or Devrent Valley: I enjoyed this, getting out and walking within the rock monuments, many that seem to resemble animals. It’s part of the Red Tour, where they drop you off, allow you to talk through the valley, and pick you up at the bottom.
  • Pasabag or Monk’s Valley: Interesting place to walk through, and easy to see how the valley got its name as some of the rock pinnacles look very phallic.
  • Iharta Valley: Pleasant valley to walk through to the south of Cappadocia. You descend down into it and walk along a small stream in a park-like setting. The rock canyon walls are littered with caves made by Byzantive monks. The valley is 13 km long, but you can make it as long or short of a trip as you like. An easy walk; we did the whole walk, back and forth, and it was quite enjoyable. At the end, at Belisirma, there are some restaurants built out over the stream, and the breeze created by the stream is very enjoyable. We ate at the Belisirma restaurant and the food was wonderful, with our own covered table and lounge actually placed in the stream itself.
  • Kaymakli or Derinkuyu Underground Cities: (or one of them, there’s quite a few). This can get a little claustrophobic at times, but it well worth the visit to see what people would do to escape persecution, living below ground from months.
  • Hot Air Ballooning: Although we never did it (I have ballooned a number of times already, and our time was tight), from the people we talked to that had many said it was the highlight of their trip. They drop down right into the valleys and then rise high above them again. Seems like fun.

Interesting facts

  • In the underground cities some of them held up to 10,000 people (Derinkuyu) at a time, living underground for months at a time. Some 37 cities have been uncovered so far in the area.
  • During the 6th and 7th centuries, when Persian and Arabic armies set off to kill off the Christians, beacons were lit and the warning could travel from Jerusalem to Constantinople in a few hours. When the message was received in Cappadocia, people would escape into these underground cities.
  • The Persians could try and contaminate the waters but would not know where there were, as the air shafts were disguised as wells. Smoke would not be seen at the surface, as it would be absorbed by the soft rock or dispersed through shafts.
  • They kept all the animals in here, as well as stores of food to last them months. They had wineries, granaries, and communal kitchens. The rich lived closest the to surface, with other floors descending up to eight levels down.

Click on any photo below to see larger images and a slide show.