Cappadocia. Seriously. Who even ARE you?*

The fairy chimneys of CappadociaCappadocia.

Cappadocia is too strange and eerie and spectacular to describe in words. More than two weeks after my visit, I’m still almost too overwhelmed to try.

I’ll leave it to Wikipedia and Lonely Planet to provide more detailed descriptions of this otherworldly place. But briefly, Cappadocia is an area in the central Anatolian region of Turkey known for its crazy sandstone rock formations — called fairy chimneys — and its colourful history involving ancient underground cities, cave dwellings, and rock-hewn churches. Meruschka and I went there for three days on the tail end of our weeklong stay in Istanbul. (Cappadocia is about two hours by plane from Istanbul.)

Where I stayed in Cappadocia

We stayed in Göreme, a small town that is one of Cappadocia’s tourist centers, at a boutique hotel called the Cappadocia Cave Suites. (Thanks to Murat and the team at Gezimanya for arranging our stay.) Cappadocia Cave Suites, like most hotels and guesthouses in Cappadocia (and many other businesses and private homes), is built into an actual cave.

My Cappadocia Cave Suite roomMy luxurious cave suite.

Cappadocia Cave SuitesThe Cappadocia Cave Suites from below. 

Cappadocia Cave Suites viewView from the Cappadocia Cave Suites.

Göreme was a great place to stay — quaint, easily walkable, with plenty of restaurants and shops.

What I did in Cappadocia

Hot-air ballooning is the ultimate tourist activity in Cappadocia. You’ve probably seen the photos — dozens of colorful balloons soaring through the sky above Cappadocia’s fairy-chimney-strewn landscape.

Upon arrival in Cappadocia, the first thing we did was arrange a sunrise balloon trip with Voyager Balloons. But alas, hot-air ballooning is dependent upon good weather and the conditions weren’t ideal during our two mornings in Cappadocia. So no soaring balloon pictures for us. No hiking either, as it was too rainy and muddy.

But the good news is that we met Cemal Gurlek, a tour guide who works in the Voyager Balloons offices. Cemal, who works for a company called CVB Travel, took us to see several of his favorite spots in Cappadocia, which we never could have done ourselves without a car. Here are the highlights of our day with Cemal:

1) O Ağacın altı.

Our first stop was an overlook outside Göreme called O Ağacın altı, which means “under that tree”. It was at this point that I became dumbstruck and remained so for the rest of the day.

Cappadocia Goreme viewLooking over Göreme from O Ağacın altı.

Meruschka CappadociaMeruschka, living on the edge at O Ağacın altı. (Don’t try this at home.)

2) Uçhisar Castle

If you’re staying in or around Göreme and have time to see only one place, I recommend Uçhisar Castle. This ancient rocky hill is the highest point in Cappadocia and I was blown away by the view from the top. (Don’t worry: The climb isn’t as bad as it looks.)

UchisarSee the tiny flag flying? That’s the top of the castle.

Cappadocia castleView of the castle from a place called Pigeon Valley, where we went the next day.

Uchisar viewView from the top of Uçhisar Castle. Almost as good as the view from a hot-air balloon.

Heather UchisarDon’t try this at home, either. (Photo: Meruschka Govender)

3) Pasabag

Pasabag, also called Monks Valley, is a part of Cappadocia where monks once lived in seclusion, following a hermetic way of life in the numerous hidden caves.

Cemal PasabagiCemal in his favorite spot in Pasabag.

Meruschka PasabagiBig rocks, tiny person.

4) Devrent Valley

Devrent Valley would have been a great spot for hiking if we’d had more time and better weather. We made a brief stop there to look at an amazing rock shaped like a camel.

Camel rockThat’s the camel on the right, with the fence around it.

Other cool things we saw and did in and around Göreme: The Göreme Open Air Museum (another must-visit), Love Valley, the El Nazar Church (sadly, we only saw the church from the outside because it’s closed in winter), and the mind-blowing Kaymaklı Underground City.

Where I ate

The weather wasn’t ideal during our visit to Cappadocia, but you don’t need good weather to eat. After my failed attempt to eat everything in Istanbul, it was nice to spend some time relaxing indoors, drinking hot tea and Cappadocia’s fantastic local wine, eating mezze and the region’s signature Gözleme (flatbread sandwiches).

1) Ziggy Café

Meruschka and I are eternally grateful to Cemal for taking for dinner at Ziggy Café in Ürgüp, about 15 minutes’ drive from Göreme. This was my favorite meal in Turkey.

Ziggys foodA lovely collection of vegetarian mezze at Ziggy. I can’t tell you what they all are, but I can tell you that they are all delicious. The roasted green peppers with bulgar wheat (second from right) were my favorite. 

Ziggy the dogZiggy’s owners, Nuray and Selim Yüksel, named the restaurant after their beloved terrier who has since passed on. There’s a lovely shrine to Ziggy in the restaurant.

2) Nazar Börek Café

On my first afternoon in Göreme I found myself alone at lunchtime and went to the first restaurant listed in my guidebook: Nazar Börek Café. It’s a friendly, cozy little restaurant with delicious gözleme.

Nazar Borek lunchSausage and cheese gözleme, tasty salad, and Turkish tea at Nazar Börek Café.

Nazar BorekI had a hilarious exchange with this nice man who was working at Nazar Börek when I came in. He’s deaf so we really couldn’t communicate, but laughed a lot while trying to understand each other. 

3) Pumpkin Göreme

Pumpkin has an ever-changing four-course menu for a set price. We had dinner there one night and really enjoyed it.

PumpkinPumpkin’s beautiful interior, lit by lamps carved from gourds.

4) Fat Boys

Don’t let the name fool you — this place is way more than a dive bar. Fat Boys has a lively atmosphere, good service, and great food and wine.

Fat Boys mezzeOur delicious mezze platter from Fat Boys.

On our last, rainy afternoon in Göreme, we were passing the time at Fat Boys and fell into a conversation with the owner, Yilmaz. Yilmaz offered to drive us to the Kaymaklı Underground City, about 30 minutes away, simply because we hadn’t been there yet and he wanted to show us. On the way there, Yilmaz told us all about his life in Cappadocia, about how he had been born in a cave, and about his travels throughout the world. It was such a lovely way to end our time in Turkey.

Meruschka underground cityMeruschka in the underground city.

Fat Boys portraitThis is Yilmaz’s father, hanging out in Fat Boys. I think it’s a good photo to end on.

And that’s the end of my blogging about Turkey. Whew! I’m exhausted. I hope to go back someday but I need a couple of years to rest.

Our stay at Cappadocia Cave Suites was complimentary, as was our dinner at Ziggy and our tour from Cemal. Opinions expressed are mine.

*This post’s headline is adapted from my favorite quote by Andy Carrie.

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