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FIRST-TIMER'S GUIDE TO THE FAIRYTALE WORLD OF CAPPADOCIA (with a bit of istanbul)

September 13, 2018

My first visit to Cappadocia was three years ago on a whirlwind trip through Turkey. The country was ridiculously beautiful, and my travels took me everywhere from the milky travertines of Pammukale to the azure waters of Kas. Of all the areas I visited, it was Cappadocia's moonlike dreamscape of fairy chimneys, rock castles and cave churches that truly swept me off my feet. I left feeling like I didn't have enough time with the place, and I've always had the itch for a return visit. When I found out I would be in Cyprus earlier this year, I immediately knew that somehow I needed to make my way to Cappadocia for one more visit.

 

With two visits under my belt, I wanted to share all my favorite spots in Cappadocia with you guys. I'm far from an expert on the area, but if you're able to include most of the below in your itinerary, I think it would be a pretty complete trip. I tried to cover everything including my favorite cave hotels, balloon viewpoints, fairy chimneys, cave pools and more.  Happy travels!

 

Chilling at my favorite viewpoint in all of Cappadocia, tucked away in quiet Uchisar.

 

STAY

Kelebek Special Cave Hotel (Goreme)

Perched on a cliff overlooking sweeping views of Goreme, Kelebek Special Cave Hotel is a solid choice for a first-timer's visit to Cappadocia. The hotel is a cluster of fairy chimneys with beautifully transformed cave dwellings that ooze with character and charm. Prices here are pretty reasonable, as are most hotels in Cappadocia. Kelebek is located next door to Sultan Cave Suites - a nice alternative if the Instagram darling is sold out.

 

Museum Hotel (Uchisar)

Ah, my favorite stay in Cappadocia. I spent two nights at this five-star boutique hotel, the only Relais & Chateaux property in Turkey. Museum Hotel is completely luxurious in its design with a gorgeous Roman-style infinity pool that's perfect for watching the balloons go up at sunrise.

 

The Rox Cappadocia (Uchisar)

Formerly a Greek house, The Rox Cappadocia has been completely transformed into a luxury hotel set over sweeping views of Goreme and Guvercinlik Valley. The hotel has become an Instagram darling in recent years, but the property's small size (only eight rooms) really prevents any sort of crowding, which is ideal for enjoying the spectacular terraces at sunrise and sunset.

 

Sultan Cave Suites (Goreme)

A favorite amongst tourists, and for good reason. Sultan Cave Suites is home to the most famous rooftop in Cappadocia, an elaborate set-up of Turkish rugs, pillows, tea, food and sometimes the resident dog Izmir. It's the perfect spot to watch the balloons go up at sunrise, but be prepared to share the space with a dozen other people hoping for that iconic Cappadocia snap.

 

Terra Cave Hotel (Goreme)

We decided last minute to add a night to the Cappadocia leg of our trip, and thankfully I was able to book a room Terra Cave Hotel. The property didn't have the epic terrace set up of Sultan Cave Suites, but this place was just as lovely. In fact, these were probably my favorite rooms in Goreme - clean, cozy and completely spacious. 

 

 A hot air balloon ride over this wild moonscape is a must in Cappadocia. 

 

 Shopping for plates in Avanos. 

 

  Looking for my buddy Fred Flintsonte in Pasabagi.

 

Evil Eye Tree at Uchisar Castle.

 

The Grand Bazaar. 

 

SIGHTS

Cavusin

As you head into Goreme from Avanos, you can't miss the iconic rock formation of Cavusin, towering over a tiny village, just off the main road. We took a couple hours to explore the cliff of dwellings riddled with abandoned rock rooms, windows and halls. The setting was utterly surreal; it felt like I was exploring another world. 

 

Derinkuyu Yeralti Sehri 

A completely unique place that I would absolutely NOT visit again. Derinkuyu Yeralti Sehri is actually the remains of a historic underground city, located 30 minutes by car from Goreme. I didn't realize I was a claustrophobic person, until 30 minutes into my visit here when I found myself lost in an underground maze of steps, tiny chambers and narrow passageways. It was impossible to gauge the depth of the labyrinth, but I've read that it goes eight levels deep. Yes, an amazing site, but not for the claustrophobic. 

 

Evil Eye Trees

There are a few Evil Eye Trees scattered throughout in Cappadocia. The one I visited was located at the entrance to Uchisar Castle, near all the tourist stalls. 

 

Goreme Open Air Museum

The most popular tourist attraction in Cappadocia is located in the heart of Goreme. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Open Air Museum is a surreal wonderland of rock churches, chapels and ornate frescoes dating back to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. This place gets busy (I know from experience), so we were at the ticket booth right when it opened. Early bird catches the worm. We had most of the place to ourselves the first hour, and didn't see the first tour group arrive until were leaving.

 

Local Cave House Pool

This isn't really a place to sightsee, but it was one of my favorite photos spots in Cappadocia. Local Cave House sits tucked away in Goreme, and is home to a pool with the prettiest fairy chimney backdrop. The tiny hotel is private property, so it might be worth booking a night (or contact the owner in advance), to experience one of the most unique pool settings in Turkey.

 

Pasabag

If Fred Flintstone lived in Cappadocia, Pasabag is the place he'd call home. The dreamy moonscape is located between Goreme and Avanos, and boasts some of the regions prettiest fairy chimneys. The place gets crowded, and it's almost impossible to get a photo without gobs of tourists midday. Best to arrive very early in morning, or just before sunset.

 

Sword Valley

This small valley is home to dozens of fairy chimneys, caves, ruins and a 300 m tunnel that leads into the surrounding cliffs. We visited the valley by ATV and then hiked around on foot to explore the abandoned cave dwellings hidden away in towering rock formations. 

 

Uchisar Castle

The rock-cut castle is completely dreamlike, a massive fairy chimney hollowed out with windows, tunnels, rooms, passageways and stairs. It's location next to the main road makes it an ideal stop for a quick photo, but for those that want to spend more time at the castle, there is plenty to see. This is the tallest point in Cappadocia, and visitors can climb to the top of Uchisar Castle for spectacular views surrounding the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 We explored soaring Sword Valley by ATV.

 

 Rooftop views of the Blue Mosque.

 

  Possibly the prettiest pool backdrop in Turkey, at Local Cave House.

 

I felt so tiny amongst the fairy chimneys. 

 

  Suleymaniye Mosque.

 

 Turkish breakfast feast at Museum Hotel.

 

  In love with the fairy chimneys of Goreme. 

 

 Meet Izmir, a favorite among guests at Sultan Cave Suites.

 

ACTIVITIES

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Yes, a hot air balloon ride is a must in Cappadocia. But the best balloon views at sunrise are from the ground. Unless you can afford to rent out an entire balloon, shooting in the balloon is tricky. We had very little control over angles and vantage points, while dealing with 15-20 other tourists packed alongside us in the basket. My recommendation is to spend two sunrises on the ground in Cappadocia, snapping all the balloon photos possible at Sunrise Point, Sultan Cave Suites, Museum Hotel, etc., and then use ta third sunrise to go up and simply enjoy the experience of being in a hot air balloon. There are dozens of companies to choose from, we went with Turkiye Balloons, and they were wonderful. We were up in the air just after sunrise, and the views of the surrounding balloons over Cappadocia were absolutely epic!

 

ATV

We switched things up a bit and spent an afternoon exploring Cappadocia's Sword Valley on ATV. ATV's are normally not my thing, but with the ATV's we were able to access places that we just couldn't get to by car. There are ATV rentals all over Goreme, no tour or guide required.

 

 Fresh blooms.

 

  Istanbul.

 

Otherwordly. 

 

 Goreme Open Air Museum.

 

We stayed at three porperties over the course of four nights to experience as many cave hotels as possible. This was our first stop at Terra Cave Hotel, a typical cave room in Cappadocia. So much character!

 

   Goreme Open Air Museum.

 

 Tourist trinkets in Cappadocia.

 

This hotel reminded me of Morocco. 

 

 Cavusin.

 

SHOPPING

Galerie Ikman

Galerie Ikman is family owned, and we were lucky enough to meet both brothers and their father over the course of our two visits to the shop. This place has become an Instagram darling in recent years for its inner courtyard of rugs that bursts with color and beauty. While it's a great spot for photos, I recommend connecting with the owner in advance. Demand is so high, that visitors must book a time slot if they are visiting for photos.

 

TRANSPORTATION

It's a quick, direct flight from Istanbul to reach Kayseri, the gateway to Cappadocia. We rented a car at the airport, and from Kayseri it was about an hour drive to Goreme. Twice now I've driven in Cappadocia, and both times were relatively painless. Cappadocia roads are wide, empty and pretty deserted, a bit like driving in the countryside. Car rentals are pretty affordable, and I couldn't imagine exploring this part of Turkey without a car, everything is so spread out.

 

Breakfast with a view at Museum Hotel.

 

  Uchisar Castle.

 

 Farewell, Cappadocia. Until next time!

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