Top Things To Do in Cappadocia
Cappadocia’s Rich Cultural Heritage
Cappadocia is is an area in central Turkey famous for its rich cultural heritage. Its history and sights are legendary and the landscape was formed 60 million years ago by erosion of lava and ash combined with the effects of wind and rain.
It is a beautiful place to visit any time of year and when I visited in early October I was completely enchanted by its beauty. Not only is the region stunning from the landscape perspective, but it is culturally one of the most interesting places I have visited in Turkey. During our trip we were accompanied by our guide Metin, who was was amazingly knowledgeable.
Cappadocia is famous for its distinctive “fairy chimneys” – the tall, conical shaped rock formations which can be found throughout the area.
There is evidence of human settlement dating back to the Paleolithic era. It was home to the Hitites and was one of the most important centres of Christianity. The region is renowned for its houses and churches carved into the caves and rocks .
These cave dwellings were used as refuges by early Christians and there are also many disused churches with fabulous murals as well as ancient Roman ruins to be discovered too.
From Switzerland To Cappadocia with Turkish Airlines
We flew from Switzerland with Turkish Airlines, changing planes at the fabulous new airport in Istanbul. From Istanbul our flight to Keysir arrived early evening and after a minibus transfer of just over an hour, we arrived at the amazing Museum Hotel in Nevşehir, which was to be our base for the next few days.
The Museum Hotel is a unique 5 star experience. The only Relais & Chateaux Hotel in Turkey, it is carved out of the rocks in the hillside and occupies a fabulous location with views across the “fairy chimneys” towards Goreme and beyond. With an excellent gourmet restaurant, an infinity pool and fabulous accommodation you can read all about it here.
Top Things To See and Do In Cappadocia
There is so much to see and do in the region – so let me take you through the list of my personal highlights.
Horse Riding in Cappadocia
Cappadocia, apparently means “the land of beautiful horses” in Persian. So what could be more fitting than to ride horseback through the striking landscape? We set off to visit a horse ranch called Moonlight Horses, where after being introduced to our horses and saddled up, we were taken for a wonderful hour long ride. I must stress that our guide was extremely helpful and patient.
As an absolute beginner (and totally lacking in confidence with horses!) he really put me at my ease and I was able to enjoy riding in the most spectacular landscape you can imagine. The views of amazing rock formations stretched out for miles and miles. In addition the horses were extremely well cared for at Moonlight Horse Ranch, Cappadocia.
The UNESCO World Heritage Open Air Museum in Göreme
A visit to Cappadocia woud not be complete without a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Open Air Museum in Göreme. Here you can see some of the most important Byzantine cave churches in the world, as well as amazingly well preserved Byzantine cave wall paintings and frescos. Located just 15 minutes from the centre of Göreme, there are lots of refectory monasteries side-by-side, each with its own unique church. Here is an example of the murals from one of the churches, St Barbara, which was built in the late 11th Century. Many of its paintings feature red lines and geometric designs and below is a painting of St. George.
Dating back from the Iconoclastic period to the end of Seljuk era, the Göreme Open Air Museum is very extensive and you should allow sufficient time to explore it as it is quite spectacular. An audio guide is available to take you through the most important highlights. It was one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey and contains the finest of the rock-cut churches, decorated with some of the most stunning frescos. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Open Air Museum website in Göreme here.
Derinkuyu Underground City
A truly unique experience is a visit to the underground city of Derinkuyu in Nevşehir Province. You descend five levels into the bowels of the earth where you find a series of tunnels and and cave rooms. It is fascinating to explore this unusual location 60 metres below the ground, where there are the remains of human settlements dating back to the 4th century.
This underground city was built to protect its inhabitants from Muslim Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine Wars between 780 and 1180 and enabled its inhabitants to live in total secrecy. It once housed over 20,000 people, along with their food stores and livestock. You can even see original wine and oil presses, stables, cellars, refectories and chapels. Two large stone doors enabled the city to be closed from the inside in the event of danger.
It was incorporated into the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1984. Fun fact: it was discovered by accident by a local man from Nevsehir province who chanced upon the city after knocking down a wall inside his house.
Historic Village of Cavusin
Another trip worth taking is to the historic village of Cavusin and the majestic fairy chimneys of Pasabag, which is also known as “Monks Valley”. Yet another place to visit is Zelve, the oldest ancient site in the region. The beauty of the region of Cappadocia is that everything is relatively close and you can visit quite a number of cultural sites within one day.
Underground Ceramics Museum Avanos
A different sort of excursion is one to the Güray Avanos Museum. It is the only underground ceramics museum in the world and has a great collection of all types of ceramic ware dating back hundreds of years.
It was refreshingly cool in the museum which has its exhibits beautifully displayed behind large glass cabinets. I had a very interesting tour before going to the onsite workshop area and having a go at modelling my own vase out of clay! It was great fun! As this can be quite a messy business, they provide you with overalls to protect your clothes. Run by the seventh generation of a local family, everyone here was extremely knowledgeable. Afterwards we had the opportunity to purchase souvenirs at the Museum shop. Visit the Güray Avanos Ceramics Museum website here. Address: Yeni, Dereyamanlı Cd., 50840 Avanos/Nevşehir, Turkey. Tel: +90 384 511 23 74
A Hike in Ihlara Valley
If you love hiking in the open air with beautiful scenic views then this really is a treat. One of my favourite excursions was this walk along the Ihlara Valley and in the October sunshine it was most enjoyable.
The Ihlara valley is full of cave dwellings and churches dotted all around and is the most famous valley in Turkey for hiking trips.
Ihlara Valley is 16km Long
In total the valley is 16 km long and there are 4 exit and entry points so that you can tailor the length of your hike according to how long you want to walk. It consists of a canyon cut into the volcanic rock near the village of Guzelyurt, birthplace of St. Gregory Nazianzen. There are around 60 Byzantine churches, chapels and monasteries you can explore. Many of the churches have frescoes and murals, although sadly we found that some had been desecrated. Inside the “Church of Daniel”, however there is a stunning ceiling fresco of Daniel between two lions.
Church of Daniel
The deep gorge is bisected by the river, with old churches hewn out of the rock on both sides.
After a while we reached a cluster of restaurants situated directly on the river. Stopping and eating at one of these restaurants is a “must do” experience!
We enjoyed an amazing 3 course lunch at Restaurant Belisirma for an unbelievable price! Sitting down in the little river “house”, resting our legs after the hike and listening to the sound of the water as it gurgled past, was truly idyllic. The food was freshly cooked and delicious and we washed it down with the traditional yogurt drink which looked very spectacular. Meanwhile our waiter skilfully walked over the boardwalks piled high with all our dishes.I did wonder how often they ended up in the river! I guess practice makes perfect 🙂
Restaurant Belisirma “River Restaurant” in the Ihlara Valley
Visit The Selime Monastery
Another place worth visiting whilst you’re there, is the Selime Monastery. It is the largest monastery in Cappadocia and built into the stone of the mountain. It was created in the 8th century and is quite stunning. Entrance to the monastery is included with your Ihlara valley ticket.
Hot Air Ballooning In Cappadocia
One of the most popular activities in the area is hot air ballooning. A number of tour agencies operate balloon flights but unfortunately we were unable to take our scheduled flight due to there being too much wind. Since safety is paramount and we couldn’t reschedule, we did the next best thing which was to drive to the area where all the balloons take off and watch them fly into the sky.
As well as visiting the launch areas, we also found that our own hotel, Museum Hotel, had some of the most perfect views of the balloons in the sky from its terrace.
Another tip is to drive to one of the many “panorama” view points in the area.
“The Three Beautiful”
The Three Beautiful (also known as the Three Graces) are the three fairy chimneys located in Urgüp, district of Nevsehir. According to legend, the king, his wife and his daughter, lived happily here until the king lost his wife and became increasingly protective of his beautiful daughter. Everyone wanted to marry her but she lost her heart to a shepherd. Knowing of her father’s disapproval she ran away with the shepherd.
A while later once she had given birth to a daughter she went back to the palace to see the king, but instead of welcoming her and her husband and baby, her father ordered they all be killed. Before dying she prayed that God would turn her into a stone or a bird. God granted her wish and therefore these three fairy chimneys represent the princess, her husband and her child.
Souvenirs and Handicrafts
There are many opportunities for shopping and souvenir hunting and in each village we found local craftspeople selling cottons, embroideries, and jewelry. In addition, if you get the opportunity to visit one of the typical Anatolian villages like Ayvali and Mazi in the Soganli Valley, you can find traditional handcrafted dolls made by local women. For this reason it is also known as the “Valley of the Dolls”.
Food in Cappadocia Turkey
The Museum Hotel’s Restaurant Lil’a
Restaurants and Food In Cappadocia
The food in Cappadocia was some of the best Turkish food I have ever tasted. The Museum Hotel’s Restaurant Lil’a served the most delicious breakfast every day as well as fabulous Turkish and international specialities for lunch and dinner. We were lucky to have our “food advisor” Alara Yegen with us, who helped us choose the best local dishes and explained to us which ingredients they included and how the dishes were made. Alara’s expertise in choosing the Meze was second to none, and my favourite Meze dish was a Pistachio Pesto we sampled at the Reserved Restaurant. You can see my version of the recipe here. We will be covering the food in more detail in a separate blogpost, following soon!
Last Glimpse of Hot Air Balloons
All too soon our trip to Cappadocia was at an end. On our last morning we set off early to catch the Turkish Airlines from Kayseri Airport to Zurich via Istanbul. En route we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to stop at one of the well known viewing spots for hot air ballooning and we saw some incredible views.
We dragged ourselves away from the balloons and headed back in the minibus to the airport. At Kayseri after a quick check we headed for the lounge and the flight to Istanbul was just over an hour. At Istanbul we changed from the national to the international terminal and we had plenty of time to catch up on admin and emails and to explore the new airport. The new airport only opened last year and has a huge array of shops, restaurants and cafes.
We had a smooth and comfortable flight from all the way back to Zurich, taking back memories of some of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in Turkey.
Resources / Information
The nearest airport to Cappadocia is Kayseri. We flew from Switzerland to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, then changed from the international to the domestic terminal at the brand new airport in Istanbul, to connect to Kayseri. From Kayseri airport to the Museum Hotel it was just over an hour by car.
Where To Stay – Museum Hotel Cappadocia Museum Hotel Cappadocia
Moonlight Horse Ranch – Moonlight Horse Ranch, Cappadocia.
For more information visit the Go Turkey website here
For flight information visit the Turkish Airlines website here.
We hope you enjoyed this overview of our trip to Cappadocia, Turkey. We travelled in early October and the temperatures were mid twenties every day which was absolutely perfect for exploring the region.
TOP TIP: Make sure to wear sturdy shoes when exploring the caves and ruins as the footing is sometimes not very secure and there are often lots of steps, mostly without handrails!
This was a press trip and my stay was hosted but all views are entirely my own.
Photos by Christina with additional photos by Alara Yegen.
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