Take to the skies: Cappadocia
Take to the skies: Cappadocia
If you’ve ever wanted to go far back in time, perhaps even living like a caveman or woman but with a few modern luxuries, Turkey’s Cappadocia region is ideal. It’s famous for its natural anthill- and mushroom-shaped towers called fairy chimneys, formed 60 million years ago by erosion of ash and lava, the wind, and rain. It also boasts full cave cities that were home to ancient settlers. For centuries now, people have dug into the firm but soft volcaniclastic rock to construct dwellings, churches, monasteries, and underground cities.
Human settlement dates back to the Paleolithic era here, with the region ruled by the Hittites, Eastern Mushki, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Seljuks, Ottomans, and the Republic of Turkey. In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persians, but in Cappadocia, there was much resistance. The Kingdom of Cappadocia was established during this time with Roman power taking control by the late 3rd-century BD. By the mid-1st-century BC, the Kings of Cappadocia were appointed, but Roman generals toppled them from the throne. In 17 AD, the last king of Cappadocia died and the region became a Roman province.
These lands where Hittites once lived have served as one of the world’s most important centers of Christianity. The name Cappadocia is believed to have been derived from Katpatuka, translating to the land of beautiful horses in the Hittite language. The deep valleys and shelters carved out of the soft volcanic rock helped to protect them against invasion by the soldiers, with the churches and homes that were created transforming the area into a vast haven for Christians who were fleeing from the Roman Empire’s control.
The Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil the Great, all played key roles in the development of Christian theology in the 4th century. They also founded the monastic communities that went on to survive for hundreds of years. Others persecuted for religious beliefs sought refuge in Cappadocia too, resulting in a melting pot of various ethnic groups that have influenced the culture.
Islam arrived with the Seljuks and continued under the Ottomans, with both groups building madrasas and mosques, many of which still stand today. The area has hosted trade colonies throughout history, with Turkey serving as a bridge between the east and west along the Silk Road. Cappadocia was one of the most important junctions and the Seljuk Turks ensured that the trade route roads were fortified, building hundreds of caravanserais to encourage trade. The stretch between Konya and Cappadocia, now a paved highway, is the most prominent. One can still see the old Seljuk caravanserais, including the Sultan Han that’s been beautifully restored.
The provincial capital of Nevsehir was first famous as Nyssa. It fell off the map, becoming just a small village until the early 18th century when money was poured into the region by Damat Ibrahim Pasha who became the Grand Vezir to the sultan. It was transformed into a “new city,” thus the name, with the hammam and mosque complex he built still used today.
For this Unforgettable journey, we take to the skies of Cappadocia for the ionic hot air balloon experience.
Take Off in a Hot-Air Balloon Over Cappadocia
Known as the “land of beautiful horses,” Cappadocia is renowned for its wild mountain ponies and alien-like landscapes with unique rock formations that look, unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen. While the views at ground level are truly breathtaking, the magnificent natural grandeur of the area is best taken in from above, which is why this has become one of the world’s most popular places for a hot-air balloon. You’ll be able to gaze down at the ethereal “fairy chimneys,” with remarkable pillars and limestone spires as well as dwellings and other structures carved into the rock. This may be the only place on the planet where hundreds of balloons soar up into the sky some 250 days of the year. While April through November is the best time to enjoy this experience of a lifetime, provided the winds aren’t too strong, winter can be especially magical too.
Q&A with our specialist, Ally
You have done this magical hot air balloon experience. How was it?
I’m not usually too happy about getting up before sunrise, I won’t lie, but on this occasion, I jumped at the opportunity. I was met at the hotel and transferred to the office of the hot air balloon company for a light breakfast and safety briefings. We were then driven out to the launch point where we met our experienced pilot and boarded the hot air balloon for the most magical of mornings. We set off, floating up over the breathtaking landscape as the sun rose, The sky was filled with other balloons – a spectacular sight everywhere you looked. Like all other hot air balloon rides, the route was determined by the wind, and eventually, we landed smoothly in a field where we were greeted with a champagne breakfast. It was quite a surreal moment, sitting down for breakfast having just floated over the skies of Cappadocia. I always had it on my bucket list, and it certainly did not disappoint.
In your opinion, what makes Cappadocia a special place?
Cappadocia’s lunar-like landscapes! I have traveled extensively across Europe but have never been to somewhere so surreal as Cappadocia. It’s a bizarrely beautiful landscape, it’s almost otherworldly, with hundreds of astonishing rock formations rising from the ground. It’s also a worthwhile visit for history buffs who will be fascinated by the ancient underground cities.
What are your top things to do in Cappadocia?
- Take a hot air balloon ride – of course!
- Stay in a cave hotel
- Visit the Goreme Open Air Museum
- Hike through the surreal landscapes of one of the many scenic valleys such as Rose Valley or Red Valley
- See the amazing fairy chimneys in Pasabag Valley
- Visit an ancient underground city of Kaymakli or Derinkuyu
- Experience the whirling dervishes
How much is a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia?
There are a few options for hot-air balloon rides in Cappadocia. The first is a standard ride, which lasts around 45-60 minutes. This is approximately 180 euros per person, which holds up to 20 people. There is also an option to do a deluxe ride, which lasts around 90 minutes and can hold 14 people. Finally, there is an option to do a completely private hot-air balloon ride. This option starts at around 2,000 euros. We do need to book hot air balloon rides in advance, so please let us know when we start to plan your trip.
What’s the best way to integrate a Cappadocia trip into a Turkey itinerary and how?
You can fly directly between Cappadocia and the capital, Istanbul. Most people will start their trip here – and rightly so. Istanbul offers an enchanting mix of grand palaces and majestic mosques, ancient markets, and colorful spice markets. However Istanbul can be busy and overwhelming, so flying to Cappadocia is the perfect add-on. Fly east for an hour and you will arrive in the tranquil Cappadocia. After a couple of nights here, you can return to Istanbul, or continue to visit other highlights of Turkey like the ruins of Ephesus or the seaside in Bodrum. All of our itineraries are customized to suit you and your interests.
Best Hotels in Cappadocia:
Argos in Cappadocia
Kayakapi Premium Caves
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This article was first published in issue seven of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.
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