Arriving in Cappadocia is like entering a Lord of the Rings landscape. All around, the rocks have been whipped into smooth regular curves like frosting on a cake. Taking a stroll out of Goreme, the region’s epicentre, you pass by slopes shining green with tender vines. Old men and women walk on goat paths doubled over with cargoes of firewood.
Beyond orchards laden in autumn you find yourself in fields of giant petrified toadstools towering high into a crystal sky. Cappadocia’s celebrated ‘fairy chimneys’ are the work of the ultimate sculptor: Mother Nature. Time has eroded this volcanic terrain into a twisted moonscape, a topographical whimsy.
Man has followed in nature’s footsteps gouging homes out of these rocky cones. Some have been upgraded as luxury hotels, so book yourself a cave room and live like the ancients (ensuite bathrooms optional). Walk around the valleys and you discover hundreds of churches, chapels, and monasteries hewn out of the stone. Clamber up a rickety ladder to a dark entrance, step inside, and your gaze will be met by the faces of saints decorating the walls, arches, and pillars carved by local Christians some 700-1,300 years ago.
o A balloon ride. Soar up into the azure sky and gaze down on the magical landscape.
o Stay in a cave! Release your inner troglodyte and check into one of the region’s cave hotels.
o Trek through the Ihlara valley. Walk to the edge of this natural chasm and you’ll see a verdant ribbon, an oasis of green, winding its way through a parched rocky wilderness. Hike along its depths and you’ll encounter Byzantine churches carved out of the cliff walls.
o Goreme’s open air museum. Take some time to stroll around the ruins of this vast Christian complex, delving in and out of the bright sun as you discover the cool, dark interiors of ancient churches, painted with frescoes.
o Explore an underground city. Deep under Cappadocia’s dusty soil lie ancient towns, vast rabbit warrens, tens of stories deep, that offered refuge to people from Hittite times to the rise of the Turks.
When to go: Spring and Autumn. Mid April to early June, and September to October are the best times to avoid the intense summer heat and crowds. If there’s snow in winter the place shines, glistens, and captivates all the more.
How long: At least three days to see the main highlights, or a week to truly lose yourself in the landscape.
Planning: There are some excellent tour operators who can help organise trips if you don’t have your own transport, but make sure they’re not going to take you to endless carpet and pottery shops. Do allow some free time to wander at will.
Inside information: It’s not all churches. Cappadocia’s landscape makes it a perfect place for outdoor pursuits, and there’s an ever increasing amount on offer from trekking to mountain biking, horse riding to white water rafting.