This historic region in the middle of Turkey – a one-hour flight from Istanbul or Antalya – has more natural wonders than you can poke a stick at. Fancy towering boulders, honeycombed hills and underground cities, plus delicious mezze? Then this is the place.
1. The landscape
Soft stone is part of the fairytale landscape here and it has provided very well for local populations over the centuries.
From “fairy chimneys” rising out of the ground to whole cities made of ancient apartment blocks carved into cliffs or tunnelled into the ground, it’s a feast for the eyes. Endless valleys disappear into the distance in a kaleidoscope of different hues, little plots grow grapes and apricots, and wild asparagus dots the hiking trails. Pigeons now live where humans once did, but you’ll likely never get so close to cave living anywhere else.
2. The balloon flight
If you’ve shown even a passing interest in Turkey, you’ll have seen photos of balloons over the hills and valleys around Göreme, Cappadocia’s tourist hub. I was a bit non-plussed about ballooning. I thought it’d be scary, but from the moment we were loaded into our Royal Balloon basket under the guidance of experienced pilot Suat, any fear disappeared. Instead, it’s like taking part in a beautiful ballet. You float gently up and down, no sound but the occasional “psshht” of air being released into the canopy. Hands down one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.
3. The accommodation
Göreme is balloon central and Uchisar is famous for its hilltop rock castle, but Urgup is a working town and also home to Viv Hudson’s cave house (vivshousecappadoccia.com). This charismatic Kiwi welcomed us with open arms and took great care of us. We loved our cave room, our breakfast, our sundowners on the terrace having a nosey at the neighbours, and her guidance on what to see and do. She organised our transfer from Nevsehir Airport, our car rental, our itinerary and our TLC. Now that’s hospitality!
4. The walks
Hikers, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven here. The best time to hit the trails is 6am – not my favourite hour as a rule, but it’s cool and, best of all, you’ll find yourself walking underneath an overhead sea of balloons. I reserve “awesome” for special occasions and walking down through Rose Valley sharing a cheery hello with a passing balloon basket as 30 more floated above really deserves its awesomeness.
On our walk, we also passed hundreds of cave homes and at the bottom of the valley, we stepped inside a doorway, snuck up a narrow staircase and there was a 6m-high church hidden inside the stone. You don’t get that at home.
5. The food
In Urgup, we followed our noses and ate with the locals in the town centre. Stand-outs were the “testi kebab” stews made in clay pots that are then smashed by an old lady with a hammer before you chow down. Ziggy’s is a popular spot with a lovely rooftop terrace and we loved Urak café. Around the corner, pop into Bazaar L’Orient, Murat’s carpet shop, where he and his assistant Ali will feed you apple tea and stun you with their gorgeous selection of rugs. Or go to the nearby town of Ortahisar and check out Murat’s Hezen Cave Hotel – it overlooks winding streets, cave dwellings and an impressive castle. I’d wondered if five days might be too long in this magical place but could easily have stayed longer. A highlight of 2016.