Note: This entry is part of a series about our 2012 trip to Turkey.
In my opinion, no visit to Turkey would be complete without a trip to the Cappacocia region. At times, the surreal landscape reminded me of the Sonoran desert, where I grew up. With the exceptional addition of “fairy chimneys”–the more polite way of describing the distinctive rock formations, many of which have been carved out to provide cave shelters.
We toyed with the idea of staying in Güzelyurt, as suggested by Rick Steves in one of his television shows, but ended up in the much-touristed town of Göreme due to convenience. Despite its touristy feel, we weren’t disappointed in Göreme–here we found our favorite hotel and had one of our best dining experiences of the whole trip.
We stayed at the Canyon View Hotel, which had been a 9th-Century church and Byzantine house, carved from the caves. It was such a treat! A bit of a hike to get there from where the bus dropped us off downtown, but completely worth it. Our room had so much character I’m not sure the photos will do it justice. As with most hotels in Turkey, breakfast is included with the price of the room. Upon special request, they’ll also make a home-cooked meal. We met some other guests traveling from Malaysia who recommended the dinner and we decided to request it the first night. It was so good, we had it the second, too!
This was also about the midpoint of our trip, so we took advantage of their laundry service. One tip I learned–keep your lights and darks separate, just like you would at home–pay for a second load if necessary! They must wash in very hot water because all our lighter clothes came back very clean but slightly tinted.
We did have a couple of meals away from the hotel, most notably at Dibek–a restaurant inside a 475-year-0ld building that makes homemade wine. Neither of us are wine drinkers but the owner took us to see the wine cellar and it looked quite impressive. The ambiance is great–you sit on cushions on the floor and calming, Turkish music played quietly in the background. We were there for a late dinner and felt like we had the entire place to ourselves.
We also tried some lahmacun (Turkish pizza) and künefe (a dessert of angel-hair pastry with cream cheese and syrup) at Firin Express. This place doesn’t have the ambiance of Dibek, but the food was inexpensive and yummy.
The town itself has its charm. There are plenty of shops with souvenirs for tourists, including rugs (of course!). We stopped at one shop during our organized tour of the Ilhara Valley and there I made my only purchases in Göreme–a colorful, embroidered bag as well as some delicious, chocolate covered Turkish delight. Otherwise, we steered clear of the shops and focused instead on the sights just outside of town. As we saw in Istanbul and Safranbolu, there are a lot of stray dogs in Göreme. It was more upsetting to me here due to the cold weather and snow.
Hot air ballooning is a BIG DEAL in Cappadocia. We had already decided we didn’t want to do a balloon ride, which was fortunate for us because weather conditions in the winter are not ideal. Our new Malaysian friends got up at 5AM three mornings in a row in hopes of taking a ride but conditions weren’t right for lift off during their stay. We slept in instead, getting up to enjoy breakfast at the hotel and then setting about to explore the region. We spend the first day visiting the Göreme Open-Air Museum, the second taking our only organized tour of trip to the Ihlara Valley (I’ll write a separate entry about that), and the third day hiking the outskirts of town in the Göreme National Park.
Göreme Open-Air Museum
The must-see sight in Göreme is the Open-Air Museum. It is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site and an amazing glimpse into early Christian history. It’s a short walk from downtown Göreme (perhaps 15 minutes) and depending how much you like to wander, can occupy the better part of a day. It was first a Byzantine monastic settlement–in the 17th century its rock-cut churches became a pilgrimage destination. Karanlik Kilise (Dark Church), the most famous church, requires an extra fee for admittance (TL8)–go ahead and splurge–it’s worth viewing and the extra fees help the site’s rehabilitation. On our way out, we took the advice of Lonely Planet and made the short hike over to El Nazar Kilise (Church of the Evil Eye). Even though it was closed when we visited, the hike was pretty and it’s worth seeing from the exterior.
Interior photography is not allowed inside some of the chapels, though we might have snuck some non-flash photos while the guards weren’t looking…
Göreme National Park
The town is surrounded by the Göreme National Park. We asked at the hotel a direction to walk for great views. We weren’t sure where we would end up, but we spent our last day wandering and it turned out to be an excellent adventure. First, we came upon a cemetery wedged between two roads and full of old and new burials–as well as some empty tombs awaiting their inhabitants. We continued walking past an area where balloons lift off and met a couple from Chicago who kindly took our photo in front of the amazing rock formations (yeah, it was cold and rainy so we weren’t winning any fashion awards!). We stumbled upon what we only imagine to be another monastic church, complete with artwork. Unlike the Open-Air Museum, there were no signs interpreting the site and we were free to wander, climb, and explore.
Throughout our trip we had collected postcards to mail to friends and family back home. We decided to mail out our first batch in Göreme. We went to the post office, gestured at our postcards, and were shown stamps to buy–this was a bit challenging since they didn’t speak English. However, we managed to mail off the first batch and bought extra stamps for the rest of the journey. Later in Selçuk, we tried to mail the final batch off. The attendant at that post office indicated we needed to buy additional stamps because the postage was not sufficient. Needless to say, we were confused. The people we mailed to from Selçuk received their postcards a full month before the people we mailed to from Göreme–but they all appeared to reach their destinations in the end. I understood then why it wasn’t recommended to try mailing souvenirs home from Turkey!