I Went To That Magical Hot Air Balloon Place On Everyone's Feeds & Trust Me, It's Worth It
If you needed more signs to tick this Turkish destination off of your travel bucket list.
If there's one word to describe Cappadocia, an ancient region located in central Turkey or Türkiye, as the country is now known, is that it's magical
There's a reason visiting Cappadocia, which means Land of the Beautiful Horses, is on plenty of people's bucket lists.
With its whimsical fairy chimneys, remarkable rock formations, ingenious underground cities, and more, being in this part of Türkiye seems almost otherworldly, a far cry even from the hustle and bustle of vibrant Istanbul.
And of course, if you're lucky enough to go over all these sights in one of the region's famous hot air balloon rides, the experience promises to be all the more breathtaking.
1. Catch a magnificent sunrise and feel like you're living in a postcard as you soar through the sky in a hot air balloon
You'll need to wake up before the crack of dawn, but the views in store when you ascend 1,200 metres above ground level will be worth it.
It's particularly great if your trip doubles as a special celebration like an anniversary or honeymoon. Ya know The Carpenters' Top of the World? Just imagine wonder in most everything you see (especially with your beloved pulled close to your side, up in the chilly air).
You can expect about 150 hot air balloons to take flight together, offering those picture-perfect spectacles you typically spot on travel pages and Pinterest boards, as well as a bird's eye view of Cappadocia's rugged terrain.
While it varies with the company and type of package you go for, most cabins are able to fit about 16 to 24 people, including two pilots, like the one we were on with Atmosfer Balloons. The hot air balloon ride takes about 45 minutes to an hour, and there will be no official route, as it'll depend on wind conditions on the day of take off.
Once you land, you'll be greeted by champagne and cake. You'll even be given a certificate to commemorate your ride. Though you are not obligated to, a tip goes a long way to show your appreciation to the crew members, who will tail your balloon in a truck and ensure you enjoy a soft landing.
2. Marvel at centuries-old pigeon houses and fairy chimneys while hiking through lunaresque valleys
There are many vantage points which give you truly amazing views of Cappadocia. This includes the Turkish town of Göreme, as well as the areas surrounding it. When you look at the landscape here, you'll notice tall, mushroom-like rock formations, known as fairy chimneys.
If you let your imagination wander, it's not hard to conjure up mythical creatures who live charming lives within these fairy chimneys, akin to ones you may have read about in Enid Blyton books as a child.
Cappadocia's fairy chimneys look extraordinary, and the way they came about is nothing short of that either. According to our Turkish guide Berkan Tasan, the natural structures are made out of hardened volcanic ash, a relatively soft type of rock, which after millions of years in the making, continues to erode into the unusual and alluring form you see today.
The countless rock-carved pigeon houses found in Pigeon Valley (where you can also find trees draped in glistening evil eye amulets) are made of the same tuff material too. It's worth noting that pigeons have long played an important role in Cappadocia, particularly for farmers who for one, use the bird's droppings to fertilise soil.
Meanwhile, another must-visit spot is Red Valley, situated in the middle of Göreme Historical National Park. It's a popular hiking trail, which not only offers a breath of fresh air and a bit of a workout, but also a pinkish-red-tinged landscape that serves as a beautiful backdrop for unbelievably stunning sunsets and sunrises.
3. Explore open-air museums that showcase bygone monasteries, churches, and cave dwellings, as well as cleverly-built underground cities
Cappadocia is famous for its underground cities that not only housed thousands of people but also animals and livestock. There are over 200 underground cities, however, Derinkuyu Underground City and Kaymakli Underground City are by far the most popular.
What's also impressive about them is that the cities span multiple levels deep — eight levels in Kaymakli and 11 levels in Derinkuyu — while still allowing proper ventilation, in addition to regular life activities like cooking and winemaking.
The early Christians who sought refuge from invading armies and fled underground is also why you'll discover many ancient churches and monasteries in Cappadocia, like the famed Zelve Open Air Museum and Göreme Open Air Museum.
The former is a Byzantine-era monastery, located between the towns of Ürgüp and Avanos, while the latter is a complex of churches, featuring underground chapels, dining halls, and dwellings with intricate frescoes and paintings. Göreme Open Air Museum's highlight is called the Dark Church, which is probably the most beautifully preserved cave church on site.
Today, you can still experience living in a cave, albeit complemented with modern amenities, as many of these ancient homes have been converted into cave hotels, ubiquitous in Cappadocia. We stayed at the very pretty Exedra Hotel Cappadocia.
4. Dine on regional classics, featuring juicy meat cooked in a claypot, syrup-soaked desserts, and more, as you sip on exquisite local wine
Did you know that the history of grapes in Cappadocia dates back 5,000 years ago? From fresh grapes to a kind of grape molasses called pekmez, and everything in between made with grape, the region is renowned for bountiful harvests, particularly in the town of Ürgüp.
Every year, the town hosts Ürgüp Grape Harvest Festival, typically in the beginning of September, during which locals, farmers, wine producers, as well as tourists will come together in great fanfare to celebrate the year's harvest. If you have a chance to visit the festival, you'll be welcomed to sample fresh, pure grape juice and even pick your own grapes, all at no cost.
The Emir grape, a type of white grape grown only in Cappadocia, is yet another cool fact that makes the region stand out. When used in winemaking, the grapes transform into some of the best wines the country has to offer — Emir wine, which provides crisp, refreshing sips.
A visit to Cappadocia would not be complete without savouring testi or pottery kebab, a specialty dish of the region. Served piping hot, a waiter will crack open the clay pot at your table to reveal meaty morsels of lamb or beef, cooked in vegetables like carrots, onions, and potatoes.
And for dessert, don't leave without trying baklava or tatlı yahni — stuffed apricots, plums, figs, and dates cooked in village molasses on a slow fire and served with kaymak (clotted cream). As a person who is not a big fan of cooked fruit, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the latter Turkish specialty at Lil'a Restaurant. Drenched in sticky syrup, yet it wasn't cloyingly sweet, just like my whole trip, which was magical.
This media trip was courtesy of Türkiye Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA).
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