Cappadocia is an incredibly scenic region in Turkey; rich in history, beauty and the world’s most popular location for watching the sunrise or sunset in a hot air balloon. To do that was a dream of mine.
As soon as we landed in the warm, 20-degree heat, we noticed the snow-capped mountains that populated the landscape.
As part of my press trip with EcoTurkey, we came to Cappadocia for a couple of days to check out the best of everything. We discovered so much; we learned about the Christian history and local culture, stayed at the most luxurious, historic cave hotel, explored many underground cities and cave dwellings and – best of all – watched the sunrise from a hot-air balloon soaring over the ‘fairy chimneys’.
Gamirasu Cave Hotel.
TravelShop Turkey & EcoTurkey kindly arranged for us to stay at the very luxurious Gamirasu Cave Hotel, one of the first cave hotels in Cappadocia. Gamirasu has earned its place as one of the best Cave Hotels in Cappadocia, as voted by TripAdvisor.
Situated in Ayvali, it opened its doors in 1999 after the owner Ibrahim spent years designing and building it himself, while still preserving the authenticity and history of the caves.
I was given the keys to the Ottoman Roman Suite, which is actually a honeymoon suite with its own hamam, round bath and the biggest bed I have ever seen, or slept in. You can fit six of me on it! (watch my reaction here)
The hotel is eco-friendly, authentic and luxurious. All the rooms are created out of the actual caves, but are now gorgeous suites filled with history. My room used to be a shelter, as it was one of the biggest caves, and it had a secret escape route, as many Christians hid from the Romans there. The suite didn’t smell damp in any way, as it is made from natural materials, so it breathes. If ten people were to lie on my bed and smoke cigars – the suite would ventilate itself naturally.
Most of the décor is antique; the Ottoman clothing presented in frames, the paintings and the furniture. I also liked the fact that there were recycling bins everywhere and they use solar power to contribute to the hot water and energy production.
I still dream about the delicious, home-made breakfasts served every morning. We chose from fresh bread, baked daily by a local baker, with delicious, local tomatoes, cucumbers, jams and olives with plenty of Turkish tea on tap (obviously!). I thoroughly enjoyed sitting out on the terrace with blossoming trees and birdsong as my backdrop, while the first rays of sun hit the surrounding caves, and we soaked it all in, accompanied by a sip of çay.
The itinerary was full-on. We got up early each day and went to visit all the must-see places in Cappadocia.
Ihlara Valley / Selime / Derinkuyu Underground City.
We went trekking through the stunning Ihlara Valley, where the sparkling river Melendiz runs along and there are very few tourists about. We met a local man fishing in the river.
This lovely walk was followed by a visit to Selime. It used to have a monastery, cathedral and church dating back to 8th and 9th centuries. At the time, it was the biggest religious building in Cappadocia, and it was also used as a military base and a place of learning. It is quite a hike up to the top, as you can see in the video below, I needed to to roll up my.. ahem.. dress!!
In the first century AD, Saint Paul established his first colony of followers in this region, and there is a lot of history, particularly at the Derinkuyu Underground City, where only a fraction of it has been uncovered. Christians hid from the Romans here for years and made their homes under the ground. It was so fascinating to see how they had carved out schools, animal enclosures, water systems and even graveyards to make their lives as normal as it would be in the open air.
Talking about open air, we also visited the Göreme Open Air Museum; one of Turkey’s Unesco World Heritage Sites. No photography is allowed to preserve the colourful frescoes of biblical scenes. There are more than 30 churches at Göreme. One of the best-known, the 13th-century Çarıklı Kilise (‘Church of the Sandals’) is so named because there are footprints marked in the floor, representing the last imprints left by Jesus before he ascended to heaven.
I was surprised to see hardly any tourists when we reached the region containing the ancient ‘Fairy Chimneys’ rock formations. We were only greeted by some happy, homeless dogs with puppies, so we had the whole place to ourselves! I know I am not alone in thinking: Isn’t it so much nicer when you can experience something so historic and majestic without endless tourists shoving their selfie sticks in front of your shots?! I am a travel writer, and not a tourist, I’ll have you know! Ha!
Fascinating mushroom-like lava formations stood still and proud, as if guarding the area.… Click To Tweet
Pigeon Valley & Rose Valley
Some of my favourite places were the Pigeon Valley & Rose Valley, locations for one of the most scenic treks in Cappadocia. Words and pictures can barely describe this place as it really needs to be experienced in person. You don’t see such an incredible landscape anywhere else in the world.
Sunrise in a Hot Air Ballon with Universal Balloons
But last but not at all least, my absolutely favourite part of the trip to Cappadocia was watching the sunrise over these volcanic, ancient rock formations in a hot-air balloon. We flew with Universal Balloon who employ experienced and licensed pilots. At 6am, we drove up to the base, where we were given a light breakfast while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive.
It all kicked in when I reached the field, and saw the huge friendly giants being pumped with hot air. Adrenaline, excitement and pure joy filled my whole body!
Watch my experience here..