When you think of destinations around the world with incredible and unique rock formations, your mind might wander to the likes of the jagged sandstone pillars of Wulingyuan, the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument of Arizona, or Bryce Canyon National Park. But the lesser known Fairy Chimneys of Göreme in the Cappadocia region of Central Anatolia are much closer to home and equally as spectacular.
This part of Turkey can be reached on a short connecting flight to Kayseri or Nevsehir airports from Istanbul. It’s a perfect destination for a long weekend adventure with friends or family, and it’s also perfect for solo travellers.
A series of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago resulted in the area being swamped in ash, which then hardened to form a porous rock. The elements carved the terrain into the odd looking rock structures known as ‘fairy chimneys’ which have been shaped entirely by erosion. Later, the locals discovered they too could carve the rocks into homes, churches, and underground cities.
The town of Göreme is literally carved into the volcanic rock, with cave hotels that provide the gateway to the Göreme National Park, a vast UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses centuries old cave churches, chimney rock formations and underground cities.
The landscape is truly spectacular. You simply have to see it to believe it and there are three ways to do so: on the ground, underground, or above ground…
The most popular experience for tourists in Göreme is taking a hot air balloon flight at sunrise over the valleys and witnessing the evolutionary rock formations from above. It’s the most magical adventure; blissfully floating through the skies with the landscape view filled with over 150 other balloons simultaneously soaring by.
I took a deluxe flight with Kapadokya Balloons which included transfers, snacks and a drink for the minibus journey, a 90 minute ride in the air, and a champagne party afterwards. I also got a certificate and enjoyed helping to deflate the balloon with the other passengers afterwards.
6 TIPS FOR HOT AIR BALLOONING
- Dress appropriately for the weather conditions – it can be pretty chilly before sunrise so it’s worth packing a hat and gloves.
- Don’t wear a rucksack or carry any excess baggage – it’s a tight squeeze in the basket and you’ll be much more comfortable with space to move around if you pack your pockets or carry a bum bag for any essential items. All you really need on board is a camera!
- Wear comfy shoes that you’ll be able to jump in and out of the basket with and happy to walk on potentially uneven terrain depending on where you land. Trainers or walking boots are ideal.
- Bring your sunglasses! Once the sun rises it’s pretty bright up there.
- Bring a portable phone charger or spare camera batteries – you’ll kick yourself if you run out of juice mid-flight and miss out on capturing all the incredible views.
- Use a wrist or neck strap to save yourself the worry of dropping your phone or camera gadgets over the edge of the basket.
ON THE GROUND
Exploring the many rock valleys on foot, quad bike, or horseback is how most people will experience the unique views that each valley has to offer. From the crazy animal shaped rocks of Devrent Valley (AKA Imagination Valley), to the Mushroom like structures of Monk’s Valley (AKA Pasabag Valley), and the slightly more phallic chimney views at Love Valley; the rock structures differ in size, shape and colour from one valley to the next – all uniquely eroded by the elements.
I hiked through Love Valley which was one of the highlights of my trip. There are lots of hiking trails in Cappadocia and Love Valley is one of the most popular – and it’s completely free to explore. You can easily hike it alone but I would definitely recommend following a guide for an off-piste experience. There was a bit of scrambling and jumping through small canyons so make sure you wear decent hiking boots and avoid wearing your best clothes as it’s super dusty.
Love Valley is characterised by it’s pale sandstone surfaces, iconic rock formations, rough mountain ridges, and expansive valley filled with hidden fruit trees. We picked quince and grapes along the way. The scenery is unbelievable and the photos don’t do justice to the sheer magnitude of this valley – you’re surrounded by 60 million year old rocks as tall as 40 metres.
Kaymakli Underground City is one of thirty six underground settlements in the Cappadocia region and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Kaymakli is the biggest and deepest underground settlement with capacity for about 5000 people.
It has 8 levels underground as deep as 40m. Four of them have been open for the public to visit since 1964 . Each level is carved from volcanic stone and connected to the next by narrow tunnels. There are stalls, stables, stores, refectories, churches, wineries, kitchens and and all sorts going on down there.
The whole underground city has been structured around ventilation shafts which descend over 260 feet deep and provide every level with oxygen.
It’s history dates back to the Hittites and Phrygians period in the 7th & 8th century BC where it was used as a safe place for those fleeing religious persecution. It was mainly used by Christians during the Byzantine era of the 15th Century for protection against the Arab invasion.
It’s an amazing experience to tour the underground maze of walkways and it’s easy to navigate with red arrows directing you down through the tunnels and blue arrows to lead you back up to the exit.
I wouldn’t recommend going underground if you don’t enjoy confined spaces and it’s definitely not suitable if you have restricted mobility. Once you are in, there’s no turning back so make sure you’re fully committed before you enter. There are a lot of narrow tunnels with low ceilings where you have to crouch down and shuffle through. It’s really fun, but I was glad I wasn’t any taller than I am.
It’s best experienced with a guide and I recommend avoiding the weekend if you can – it get’s busy!
Once you’ve explored the fabulous valleys from above and below, there are plenty of other experiences you can’t miss. Read my top 12 Things You Must Do In Cappadocia blog for more inspiration.