Friday, January 17, 2014

Cappadocia: Halfway Between Turkey and Tatooine

In the central regions of Anatolia, in the Republic of Turkey, lies the ancient and beautiful region of Cappadocia.  The heart of Cappadocia is the Göreme valley, a lunar landscape of weathered volcanic rock formations called "fairy chimneys," sometimes riddled with ancient dwellings carved directly into the volcanic tuff, bursting like mushrooms from the cracked desert floor.  Although not well-known to most travelers hailing from North America, after seeing a single picture, it takes little convincing that Cappadocia is one of the most mysterious and lovely places on Earth, and well worth exploring.

A courtyard at Cappadocia Cave Suites hotel in Göreme, Turkey

The volcanic tuff has served as a shelter and dwelling place for locals for many centuries. However, in recent years the caves are being converted into luxury hotels where each room is unique, high quality restaurants with a magical ambience, and underground spas where visitors can receive a Turkish Massage in an underground chamber built in the style of a traditional Hamam.

Have a luxurious Turkish Bath at the Kelebek Cave Hotel Hamam

The region is perhaps most famous for its hot air balloon rides, which occur at dawn almost every day of the year (weather permitting).  There are many reputable ballooning operations in Cappadocia, and dozens of balloons fly every day.  However, I recommend Butterfly Balloons because the balloon captains are hilarious storytellers, and such expert pilots that they can softly land the basket of the balloon directly on a small truck trailer from a mile up. You get to celebrate with a toast of champagne and orange juice at the end of every landing.

A view of the Zelve Valley from the basket of a Butterfly Balloon

Nearby Avanos is a center for the production of beautiful handcrafted ceramics.  Firca Ceramics is one of the main workshops, and this family business has been hand-forming and hand-painting artisanal ceramic pieces in the same cave for almost two hundred years.

Inside Firca Ceramic in Avanos, Turkey

A handful of excellent restaurants can be found in Göreme.  If you are ever in the region, don't miss out on Topdeck Cave Restaurant.  It is a completely family-run establishment in which the Father (his nickname is Topdeck) and Mother do the cooking, while their two talkative young daughters take orders and serve the meals.  It's a little difficult to find Topdeck Cave Restaurant in a back alley of Göreme and requires carefully following a small map to find it. However, the food and the table talk with the charismatic and energetic waitresses are well worth the search.

Meals at Topdeck Cave Restaurant

The portion of our Turkish honeymoon that was spent in Cappadocia was the most cherished part of our trip.  I highly recommend a visit to Göreme Valley as part of any trip to Turkey.  And although it may seem a little expensive to ride one of the hot air balloons at dawn, I promise that the experience is well worth the price!

Hot Air Ballooning at Dawn in Cappadocia

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