Cappadocia’s landscapes are lunar-like. They also offer fun adventures for a family trip. It’s a straightforward destination: easy to reach, charming places to stay within all budgets, safe, very friendly locals. There’s much to do from cultural to physical activities, for all ages: visiting the mazes of underground cities, sleeping in cave rooms, flying high above the earth in a hot air balloon, hiking among fairy chimneys created by fascinating geological phenomenon.. Oh, and tasting the simple pleasures of Anatolian life, kind smiles, slow pace, donkeys and children in the streets of the villages, eating bread fresh out of the oven. Despite the bus loads of tourists (many from China since the region was featured in a Chinese soap opera..), one feels a million years away. Literally.
Our trip last October was over 3 nights & 4 days. We rented a car at the airport, and planned as we went along. Easy, peasy (with a Turkish husband, I must confess).
Arriving Chez Nazim in the early evening. The place was recommended by Helene of Cappadocia Ranch. She organises horse riding trips all year long in the ranch that she runs with her French husband Nicolas. Chez Nazim is a pension carved in the rocks on the outskirts of the village of Uchisar. Azim has the kind smile of a man who never seems stressed by life, yet works hard morning til evening to run his pension and sustain his family. His b&b is very rustic but we sense the warmth of his persona all around. We are greeted with a typical soup of vegetables and grains (çorbasi) heated on the stove and he then shows us a few rooms. It is as if we are the only guests for the night. The children choose a cave room where all five of us can stay, them sleeping together on a cozy mattress covered with a multitude of woollen blankets, literally inside the rock. Our mattress, on the other hand, must have seen its fair share of tourists. The authentic factor is at its peak.
– The excitement is high. We wake up at 5am to be picked up by Urgup Balloons. As we get on board, I can’t help notice how young our captain seems to be. He tells us he has more than 400 hours of flying so .. In Mehmet We Trust. We share the balloon with 15 other tourists, a mix from Japan, China, Russia and Koreans. Children are normally not accepted below 140cm, mostly because they can’t see below that height, but Urgup Balloons insists that Lior will still have a great time peeking through the little window, so we bring him along.
We are all mesmerised by the beauty of the journey in the air. The softness of the ride when going up and down without a noise, the sun rising slowly and turning the landscape in a palette ofpastel colors. It’s all romantic and so magic .. so much so that Chinese couples have made it a destination of choice to come get married. Yep!
Our guide Octay later tells me that there are 200 hot air balloons authorised to fly each day but the rides are often canceled due to strong winds so keep the children’s expectations low in case you would not be able to go. When we land back, Mehmet pops a bottle of sparkly drink for everyone. We all clap, get our diploma and take a group picture. However, the children and I cant’ help notice how the cork of the bottle flies up in the air and no-one from the crew bothers collecting it from the ground. There are dozens of little plastic corks on the ground. The flip side of that magic moment…
We meet Octay back at the b&b for a late breakfast, and we all get in the car while he gives us some fun facts. He has lived in the region his entire life and is still fully in love with it. We visit the Unesco-protected Goreme National Park, the fortress of Uchisar where we climb up to the top. We also go to one of the underground cities closest to Goreme National park and eat kebabs for lunch, cooked on a wood fire inside clay pots. Delicious.
Nazim offers us a lift until one end of the Rose Valley, so we can hike it and call a taxi on the other end. It’s a 3h easy walk but we are happy to have sturdy shoes as it is slippery at times. Stunning views, the feeling of being all alone .. until we meet a group of English hikers who are not very happy by the noise that our children make. I vaguely apologise, sorry but not sorry to see how happy Marcelo, Amalya and Lior are to jump up and down the rocks. We find many caves and grottos and we climb into one of them: it has stunning frescos with pretty shades of pink washed over time.
Towards the end of the trail, a local women makes gözleme, a pancake often filled with cheese or honey. They’re so good, warmed up on the charcoal stove in front of us. We keep on buying more. For some reasons, her little spot reminds me of Arizona and the Grand Canyon, a bit of a Baghdad Cafe moment. Note to self, I need to watch that movie again.
The grand finale that day is a horse riding trip throughout the valley at sunset. It’s peaceful and lunar until we come across a hord of tourists on quads who are polluting the entire scene in every sense of the word. I almost cry.
Doing our best not to offend Azim, we decide we need to move to a more comfortable place for our last night 1/ because all three children have caught a stomach bug and we need a fully functioning bathroom & 2/ because I want to see what it feels like to sleep in a fancy cave! We check ourselves into Yunak Evleri where we stayed 10 years ago, when I was pregnant of Amalya.
Too last minute to book a full eco-tour with Turkish Tour Organiser, Gülsah takes us around on a day trip off the beaten track. Her English is excellent (she moved to the region 6 years ago after a stint in Melbourne). With her husband, they have launched an agency focused on cultural tours, many getting you close to life in Cappadocia.
We start with a visit of the underground city of Derinkuyu. I suffer mildly from claustrophobia so I am reluctant at first to bend down and walk in the narrow passages that are sometimes 10m long, but the children persuade me to go. It’s fascinating to imagine how the hittites built those fully operating cities more than 4,000 years ago.
Gülsar then takes us to a typical Turkish cafe on the main square of Mustafapasa, a small town with an old madrasa (islamic school) converted into a university (to train flight attendants, of all subjects!). She explains that she often comes by herself in those Turkish cafes full of men and she listens to them gossips, talking about their wives, their neighbours. Lior gets a set of dominos on one of the shelves and the children teach Gülsar how to play. I sip a Salep, it’s a mildly sweet blend of milk and rosebud. All is well far from everything.
We have lunch at The Old Greek House, a place that has been in the same family for generations and has kept all its charm. We feast on lentil soup, mezze and more clay pot cooked dishes. It feels like being in a movie set.
There are many options of accommodation in the region:
- In the luxury space: my choice would be Argos, which overtakes a little hamlet and is located on the edge of a mountain, with magnificent open views and lots of antiques. There is also the relais & chateau Museum Hotel, but it seems a bit too lavish maybe.
- For places with style in the mid/up-market: Serinn House in Urgup came well recommended, as well as the stylish Sota Capadoccia and Aya Kapadokya. Yunak Evleri is where we stayed for our last night. It’s still well run, spotless and tasteful but the hotel has grown a bit too much over the years.
- There are plenty of modest pensions, a term to designate b&bs: Kilim Pension, Maze of Cappadocia and of course Chez Azim where we stayed.
Good to Know:
- There are two airports in Cappadocia but the one called Nevşehir is closer to all the interesting villages. It’s also possible travel by train from the large cities in Turkey but cost-wise, it’s not that attractive compared to the flights which are really economical. Of note: there are lots of daily flights from Istanbul (mostly depart from the airport on the Asian side of Istabvul, pay attention to times as traffic is notoriously tricky in Istanbul).
- Pay attention to the season, it gets very cold and snowy in the winter months, and very hot in July & August. Favorite times to visit are spring, April until early July, or September until November. We had wonderful temperatures and blue skies one day, and cold wind and rain the next…
- The food that we had was nothing to rave about. A pity when Turkish food can be so delicious. It’s best to stick to simple spots and have Pide (the equivalent of pizza in Turkey, easy with plain cheese for example). Snack wise, you’ll find fresh squeezed pomegranate and orange juices pretty much every where, and freshbread rolls with sesame seeds called limit.
- Hot air balloon: better to book in advance as it’s hugely popular to go hot air balloning in Cappadocia (and very pricey!). We must have been lucky as we booked our ride just as we arrived in the region. Some balloons are for 8 persons, some are for up to 15. Always go with a licensed agency.
- The friendly team at Turkish Tour Organizer will help you book a guide for the day, organize an afternoon in a village house to bake bread on hot stones, poetry classes, outdoor photography session, ecological learnings…
- Horseback riding with Moonlight Horseriding
- Book a car rental at the airport, or your hotel can have one delivered for you
- I wanted to continue onto the city of Konya, the birthplace of the great sufi philosopher Rumi. It’s only 3-4h drive from Cappadocia. However, the whirling dervish performances only take place on week ends, so we’re keeping it for another time. To be continued.