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Cappadocia: Ballooning and Beyond

Amber Gibson

Contributor

Thanks to the Insta-famous fairytale chimney landscapes and skies filled with hot air balloons, Cappadocia is quickly becoming the hottest place to visit in Turkey. But there's more than meets the eye here, including a rich history of underground cities and cave churches, plus beautiful artisan crafts to take home. There's a lot to do and everything is quite spread out, so your best bet is booking a private guide for a customized itinerary and comfortable transportation between activities. Cappadocia is just a short flight from Istanbul and Turkish Airlines offers the best international connections, plus a swanky business class lounge in the new Istanbul Airport.

GO FOR A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE

Did you even visit Cappadocia if you didn't go up in a hot air balloon? This is the most iconic activity in Cappadocia and one you don't want to miss. Every morning, a kaleidoscope of 150 balloons take to the skies at dawn – that's more than most hot air balloon festivals. With the surge in popularity, a black market for balloon rides has developed so be sure you're booking through a reputable provider. Royal Balloon, Butterfly and Voyager are the top companies recommended by locals with the best pilots. 


Travel guide companies like Travel Atelier might be able to work magic and get you in at the last minute, but you are best advised to book far in advance. Consider booking a balloon ride for your first morning in Cappadocia, since you'll most likely still be adjusting to the time difference so the early morning rise won't be so tough. Bring sunglasses and a camera to document the unique topography of the Göreme valley, shaped by hundreds of volcanic eruptions. Royal Balloon's expert pilots bring you gently back to earth for a Turkish champagne toast.

Goreme National Park

GET LOST IN AN UNDERGROUND CITY

There are dozens of underground cave cities in Cappadocia to clamber around in, and Kaymakli is one of the largest, used for centuries by civilians to hide from invaders. These cities are built from the bottom up, chiselled into the volcanic ash. At Kaymakli, the deepest levels date to the Hittite period, with Lydian, Persian and Greek additions. Ceilings are short and passages narrow, making it more difficult for soldiers to enter, but also something to be careful of if you're claustrophobic. Deep ventilation shafts brought in the fresh air, and along with living quarters, there were churches, wineries and even stables for the animals as entire villages would hibernate underground in times of conflict.

Kaymakli Underground City

SHOP FOR TURKISH RUGS AND POTTERY

In Cappadocia, you can take home beautiful home décor right from the source. Watch weavers working at Bazaar 54 and learn about the various designs and combinations of material that comprise each rug. From more rudimentary wool-on-wool rugs to the finest silk-on-silk masterpieces with exquisitely detailed patterns, piece after piece is unfurled at your feel while you sip Turkish coffee. A four-foot by six-foot silk-on-silk rug could take an experienced weaver up to a year to create. If you're more interested in pottery than rugs, Kapodokya Seramik will captivate you with the delicate artistry of their glazed ceramic vases, plates and Hittite wine jugs. 

Derinkuyu town

WINE AND DINE WITH LOCAL DELICACIES

Turkish wines are not widely available outside Turkey, but there are some real gems to discover. Cappadocia is famous for its narince, a distinctive Anatolian grape that produces an aromatic and refreshing white wine that's excellent with seafood and soft cheese. Hopefully, you're here with friends because Turkish mezze is meant to be shared. Begin with dolmas, ezme, smoked aubergine dip, marinated olives and cheesy phyllo pastries followed by miniature manti dumplings filled with minced meat and topped with yoghurt and tomato sauce. 

Ziggy is a local favourite for its rooftop terrace and killer food – fava bean purée and garlic chicken skewers are specialities. Dibek serves traditional Turkish comfort food and you'll sit cross-legged on the floor while enjoying testi kebabi – an Ottoman delicacy of beef with tomatoes and pepper slowly cooked in a clay pot that's broken open tableside for show.

Turk Pidesi or Sucuk Pide

STAY IN A LUXURY BOUTIQUE HOTEL

You won't find big chain hotels here – no Four Seasons, Ritz-Carltons or Hiltons. Instead, there are charming, independent hotels and plenty of bed and breakfasts. Göreme is the touristic hub of Cappadocia and there is plenty of lodging here, but consider staying in one of the smaller surrounding towns for a more luxurious and private experience. Argos Hotel is famous for its caves and massive wine cellar and Museum Hotel is a Relais & Chateaux cave hotel with a nice spa. However, the most intimate of all is Ariana Sustainable Luxury Lodge in Uçhisar. There are just 11 one-of-a-kind suites here, and you feel like you're staying in a private villa. Service at this Small Luxury Hotel goes above and beyond and if you book the duplex Ishtar Suite, the mosaic above the bathtub will take your breath away.

Cappadocia, Turkey

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