Perfect Getaway: Otherworldly Scenes in Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloons fill the dawn sky over Cappadocia. Photograph by Jeffrey S. Rovner

Cappadocia … it’s not a place, it’s a planet. Or that’s how it feels when you arrive—as if Captain Kirk threw open the doors of the Starship Enterprise to reveal an alien yet alluring land. Fairy chimneys periscope pinkly up from a rubbly landscape, which was formed from hardened volcanic ash known as tuff. Weathered rocks embrace carved-out ancient chapels and shelters. Istanbul is a glorious city, and worth a visit. But for true transcendence, Cappadocia is a must.

Cave in to Pleasure
Yunak Evleri is one of the most picturesque of the cave hotels for which Cappadocia is famous. The exotic cave rooms ($89 and up) and suites feature handcrafted lace curtains, antique chests, traditional bed covers, old brass bedsteads, and kilim carpets, reflecting the region’s history and culture. Enjoy a Cappadocian cocktail on the rooftop as the sun sets, casting a rosy glow on a one-of-a-kind vista.

High in the Sky
Hot air balloons ride the dawn sky, whooshed into buoyancy by bright burner flames. As you leave the ground, gaze up at the balloons already touching the hem of the sky and gasp to realize you will be carried to those heights ($100 and up). Cling to the sturdy basket walls and gaze down as the balloon sighs and rises. You’ll see patches of green among the pink, where tiny goats graze near humble farmers’ homes.

The Goreme Open-Air Museum sits atop a hill. Photograph by Jeffrey S. Rovner

Fruit-Flavored Fare
Aravan Evi Restaurant prepares its foods in traditional Cappadocian tandir (in-ground) ovens. Fruit-tree twigs from apricot, grape, and other local trees feed the fire, adding unique aromas and flavors. Guests can pick their own veggies and fruit from the eco-farm, even participate in the preparation of their meal. Enjoy delicious vegetable and meat casseroles, flatbread, soup, and bulgur dishes.

A Rockin’ Hike
For a change of scenery and some greenery, hike Ihlara Valley, created by the cracking and collapsing that occurred as basalt and andesite lava cooled and the Melendiz River cut its way through the rock. Have lunch at Belisirma Restaurant in shady sit-outs set atop the cool gurgling waters. Enjoy trout, salads sourced from local farms, and earthy breads served with spicy dips.

Sunrise to Sunset
Wake at sunrise to take a trip to the vineyards to learn about and taste Cappadocian wines. Lunch with a local family: Cook with them and learn about life in this otherworldly place. Try traditional beans and bulgur rice cooked in terra cotta, or local pasta (eriste) and ravioli (manti). Cappadocia means “land of beautiful horses”… so cap off your day with a sunset horseback ride into the valley.

Ah Spa!
Enjoy an out-of-this-world spa experience at the Panoramic Cave Hotel’s hamman (Turkish bath). A steamy sauna renders you shiny, slippery, and entirely exfoliated ($70 for 80 minutes). Then step into a bath, where you’ll be cleansed with vitamin-rich soap. Finally, a relaxing massage will leave you feeling lazy and limber.

For a luxurious stay, try Argos in Cappadocia.
Photograph by Jeffrey S. Rovner

Go to Goreme
Churches and refectories dating from the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries, carved warren-like into a vast hillside, remain accessible at the Goreme Open-Air Museum. Clamber into history: Sit at the same rock-cut table where long-ago monks ate their communal dinner and marvel at the chapels, many still beautifully adorned with frescoes whose colors retain their original freshness.

Elegance … Ergo Argos?
Argos in Cappadocia is one of the most luxurious hotels in the area ($260 and up). Seki Restaurant, which has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler and Wine Spectator, features fine food and wines from the Argos vineyard. The spa offers views of Pigeon Valley, where myriad manmade pigeon houses have been molded out of the tuff and are maintained in honor of the birds’ fertilizing prowess in days past.

Give it a Whirl
Whirling dervishes at the Motif Cultural Center don’t give performances: They worship, Sufi-style ($30 for the 45-minute ceremony). After chants, the silent dervishes rotate around each other, eyes closed, robes floating, while each also turns and turns in place, creating a spinning human web.

Tip From a Local
Ask your guide if there’s any chance you could join locals on a full-moon hike through the lesser-known valleys, a gloriously ghostly adventure you’ll never forget.”
—Dicle Gundem, tour guide

Aug. 31 to Sept. 1, 2021: Avanos International Handicrafts Festival. The old city of Avanos on the Red River is famous for its production of earthenware pottery since the days of the Hittites, as far back as 2000 B.C.

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