The crossing from Iran to Turkey hit me with the coldest temperatures I had ever ridden in, I would do my best to sit on 100 km/h on the highway but with the temperature getting as low as minus 10 degrees at 12 noon, I would have to stop quite regularly to get the feeling back in my hands. I was getting the feeling over the past 1 ½ weeks since I left Tehran that I had spent most of my time just doing my best to avoid bad weather, I wasn’t enjoying the riding and I wasn’t going out of my way to do any sightseeing because of the icy road conditions. I was very happy to head a little further south to Cappadocia where I planned to meet my friend Charlotte for a week and explore the famous landscape dotted with “fairy Chimneys” and cave churches. I have wanted to visit the Cappadocia region since I saw people hot air ballooning through the unique landscape on a travel show when I was a kid, it really seemed like a magical place and it immediately earned a spot high on the list of destinations I wanted to visit. Arriving at any location with high expectations can be a trap, it’s a potential recipe for disappointment, Cappadocia however did nothing but impress me from the moment I arrived until the time I reluctantly left. I based myself in the town of Goreme which was central to all of the most popular valleys, walking distance to many of the cave churches and close to the launching point for the hot air balloons. Goreme also had no shortage of charming accommodation, most of the traditional cave houses in the old town had been turned into guest houses to cater for the tourists that flock to the area, we stayed in Chelebi guesthouse, the hospitality was amazing and the guesthouse was full of character, plus they had secure motorcycle parking which is always a big plus.
Probably the most iconic image of Cappadocia is the Balloons floating over the fairy chimneys, and understandably that is the biggest tourist draw card to the region, it was the low season but there were still 50 balloons going up every day and that number almost triples in the peak season. I’m not the biggest fan of early mornings, but with no shortage of vantage points to watch the Balloons serenely glide over the landscape with the sun rising behind, I made sure to always wake early to enjoy the view, weather it was from the roof of our guesthouse while sipping a coffee or from the cliff tops just meters away from the passing balloons it was always a magnificent sight. Gazing at the Balloons from the ground offered some great views but there was no way I was going to travel all this way and let everybody else have all the fun, naturally I booked a balloon ride so I could get a birds eye view of the area. My Balloon ride in Cappadocia was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my trip so far, it lived up to and even exceeded all the expectations I had. As soon as we took off we went high above the valley so our pilot could gauge the wind direction, this gave us a spectacular 360 degree view of the whole area, once the pilot was comfortable with the wind direction he took us down into the valley to get a close up of the fairy chimneys. When I say “into” the valley I really mean into the valley, we were floating just meters from the ground with fairy chimneys either side, how the pilot managed navigate the narrow space I don’t know but it was a real testament to his skill and was a breathtaking experience. We spent the next 2 hours floating over and through the surrounding valleys with some unforgettable views of the many cave churches that were long ago carved into the cliffs. There is no shortage of ballooning companies to choose from in Cappadocia and with the balloons literally bouncing off each other in the air I’m glad I paid a few Euro extra to go with Turkeye Balloons which was highly recommended by our guesthouse, the other benefit was the 8 person basket instead of the 24 people I saw crammed into some other the other companies baskets. We finished the balloon trip with a celebration bottle of champagne and still made it back to the guest house for the delicious breakfast they served every morning. I was initially a little worried about visiting the area in late February at the tail end of winter however the snow covered peaks added to the atmosphere and the cold wasn’t unbearable, even in the balloon it was quite pleasant with our warm jackets, thermals and gloves on.
My ballooning adventure box was ticked off but there was still plenty to see in Cappadocia, I lost track of the km’s we spent hiking through the valleys, discovering fresco adorned caves that seemed like they hadn’t been visited in years. It seems no matter where you explore in the surrounding area you are sure to stumble across a cave with an imagination inspiring history and It’s not hard to find a cave that’s away from the many other tourists that visit the area so when you step inside you get the feeling that you’re the first person to visit for a very long time (just ignore the footprints of the other intrepid explorers that found the cave earlier that day). Goreme also boasts a fantastic outdoor museum that lets you wonder through the cave monasteries at your own pace, most of these are home to magnificent frescoes that belie their age with their rich painted colours. I liked the idea of having a modern troglodyte experience by camping in a cave for a night but I enjoyed the luxury of my guesthouse cave room complete with Jacuzzi too much to swap, we compromised and were able to channel a little of the areas original inhabitants with a small camp fire in a secluded cave, perhaps the bottle of wine and marshmallows took away from the authenticity but we decided they were a necessity.
Cappadocia is also home to some very extraordinary underground cities, some of these could house as many as 20,000 people and were used to hide the local population from invaders. The underground metropolis’s were self sustaining and contained air shafts and access to fresh water, entrances were hidden amongst the above ground villages and could be sealed off using large stone doors, safely sealing in the locals and their livestock until the danger had passed. We visited the underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, both of these were amazing, I couldn’t help but get that Indiana Jones feeling as I made my way through the tunnels that had been carved into the rock centuries before, trying to squeeze through the narrow tunnels and constantly banging your head because you are 6’ 4” quickly snaps you back to reality however. You don’t have to travel much further to discover the wonderful Ihlara Valley, venturing into the deep canyon has you hiking along a river on one side and steep walls dotted with cave churches on the other which gives a perfect blend of history and natural beauty. The valley has some very nice riverside restaurants and we finished our short hike listening to the sound of running water as we indulged in some local food.
With so many amazing sights to see in the area it’s easy to get caught up in the process of rushing from one destination to the next in an attempt to see as much as possible but perhaps the best thing about Cappadocia is the atmosphere. Goreme is home to many quaint cafes and restauants and taking the time to sit back and enjoy a glass of Raki while you smoke some shisha (double apple flavour is my favourite) is as much the capadoccia experience as anything.