Once Upon a Time in a Fairy Land Called Cappadocia

In a world that seeks perfection sits the odd and imperfect fairy-tale cave town of Cappadocia in Turkey.

By Kaveri Jain

My adventure to Cappadocia, a miracle of nature in the heart of Turkey, began in the airplane itself, flying down from Istanbul to Nevsehir Capadokya airport. With my face stuck to the window, I was like a little child spellbound with the views of the honeycombed hills, fairy chimneys and towering boulders.

Cappadocia, created from a series of volcanic eruptions, is a world heritage site and a must-visit for any travel enthusiast. My first steps along the pebbled road leading to an enchanting cave hotel were just the beginning of an unimaginable adventure.

A 30-room property dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries, a large part of the hotel was actually a Greek mansion from the 19th century. Six of the largest cave houses have been luxuriously renovated here, and mine was no less than a palace.

A cave hotel in Cappadocia

There are plenty of accommodation options in Cappadocia for travellers of every budget – from cave hostels to luxury hotels. Don’t miss the experience of staying in a cave hotel, for sure!

A bustling local market lay a short distance away, with all sorts of dried herbs, flowers, pottery, household goods and foodstuff like dried fruit and teas on sale. I bought five varieties of teas and a bag of pistachios from a hazel-eyed young girl who pulled out a bottle of syrup when I told her I love cooking. She explained that the syrup was called pekmez, its grape molasses made in Cappadocia, and is used to make a chewy dessert similar to the Turkish Delight.

Before it got too hot I decided to visit the Goreme open-air museum. This museum has eight of the best-preserved churches in Cappadocia. My favourite was Karanik Kilise where the Byzantine frescos have been preserved and restored beautifully.

Open-air museum

On my way back to the hotel I stopped for a small bite at Old Cappadocia café where I tried the ever popular pottery kebab. Testi is an Anatolian specialty prepared in a clay pot or jug. It’s usually made with lamb, beef, or chicken with vegetables like carrots, celery, onions, garlic and potatoes. It is a spectacle to watch the blazing hot jug being brought out and cracked right onto my plate. Next up was a Rose Valley hike. Standing over oceans of rippling red, rose and white rocks watching the sun go down is undeniably a magical moment.

The next morning, I was up at 5 am, heading out for a once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon ride. I fall short of words to describe what I felt as I sailed higher and higher to a height of nearly 6000 feet. The sun seemed to be making love to the perfect blue sky, and the endless vastness of Cappadocia’s breathtaking landscape engulfed my very being. I ended the ride heady with exhilaration, a high I had never felt before.

Hot-air balloon ride over Cappadocia

The same afternoon, I set off on a hike with a couple I had met during the balloon ride. We started down the narrow canyon walls of Pigeon Valley, and in about two hours reached Uçhisar Castle, a tall volcanic-rock outcrop that is one of Cappadocia’s most prominent landmarks. Riddled with tunnels, it was used for centuries by villagers for refuge during enemy attacks. Standing here, you can also view a magnificent panorama of the surrounding area with Mount Erciyes in the distance.

My next stop was the Kaymakli Underground City, an unimaginable habitation that descends eight levels into the earth. The construction of this cave city happened between the seventh and eighth centuries BCE, once again as a refuge from invaders. Finishing my day with a glass of wine at the Top Deck Restaurant here, watching the sky change hues, was the cherry on the cake.

Local pottery

On my third and final day in Cappadocia (I kicked myself for planning just a three-day trip to this wonderland – you need four or five days at least!), I set off early to the Pasabag or Monk Valley. Standing amidst the most striking fairy chimneys and mushroom-topped formations in the area was jaw dropping. The Monk Valley was once home to a community of hermits. In one of the three-headed fairy chimneys, there is a chapel dedicated to St. Simeon with antithetical crosses decorating the entrance.

About a kilometre ahead is the Zelve Valley Open Air Museum, which houses about 15 churches, tunnels, houses, monasteries and mills and is a great example of Byzantine art. The churches of Geyikli (the Church with the Deer), Uzumlu (the Church with Grapes), and Balikli (the Church with Fishes) are some of the most popular fairy chimney churches here.

Cappadocia souvenirs

Around the corner is Devrent Valley, but to my surprise there were no large chimneys, churches or tombs to be seen. Rather, everywhere I looked, I could see animal-shaped rocks – rocks in the shape of dolphins, snakes and even camels. Strange, small fairy chimneys seemed to form a lunar landscape. It was an enchanting experience, bringing out the child in me.

Lunch at the Organic Cave Kitchen and dinner at the Turkish Ravioli restaurant were both excellent picks for my final day. I can’t wait to go back in winter and see this wonderful, magical land in a new light, dusted with a light bit of snow.

Photos: Pixabay. First published in eShe’s March 2020 issue

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