Known for its unique moon-like landscape, underground cities, cave churches and houses carved in the rocks, 48 hours in Cappadocia is a whirlwind of wonder. The Göreme valley was shaped by ancient volcanic eruptions that eroded, leaving a landscape of cones, chimneys and mushrooms that reach up to 130 feet and speckle the land—like something out of a fairytale. Humans also contributed, carving caves for living quarters, tunnels, churches, storage areas and stables from the soft rock thousands of years ago (circa 1800-1200 B.C.).
My first stop was at the Derinkuyu Underground, an ancient city that spans nearly 200 feet deep underground. I wandered deeper and deeper below, into another world that dates back to the 7th or 8th century B.C. It’s pretty amazing to think about centuries of peoples living in this fully functioning underground city that included wine and oil presses, stables, cellars, storage rooms and chapels with approximately 20,000 residents, as well as their livestock!
From the underground city, I climbed back up to ground level and traveled to the Ihlara Valley that was created as volcanic lava cooled and gave way to cracks and subsidence. Streams found their way through the cracks, eroding the bottom of the valley. The entire valley runs almost nine miles. I stopped at a makeshift rest stop with a portable toilet and a “café”. I ordered a Turkish coffee.
Nearby, two women sitting on the ground were rolling out flatbread dough and filling it with cheese and spinach. Like a quesadilla, the gozelmes were then grilled on an open flame. Light, buttery and delicious!
Next up: Selime Cathedral, a stunning cathedral carved into the rocks that allowed persecuted Christians to practice their faith safely, more than 1,700 years ago. As I climbed up the rocks, looking out at the vast landscape, I wondered if Gaudi had visited this place and gleaned inspiration.
After a full day of climbing caves, it was time to sleep in a cave too. Argos Hotel is a magnificent stay that’s built into the caves and ruins of the mountain. Made up of five mansions on a steep hillside, every room or suite is unique. There are no elevators and you wander up the hill and through the mansions to your suite. Being built into a mountain, the views from the hotel are spectacular. After a quick but delicious meal in the hotel’s 100-seat Seki Restaurant and a glass of Turkish wine, it was time to whirl.
You Spin Me Round, Round, Round
The Whirling Dervishes, Sufis who spin continuously for long periods of time as a form of worship and meditation, are based in Konya, approximately 4 hours from Cappadocia. Luckily, they also perform at the Saruhan Cultural Center in Cappadocia. Between the chanting, the music and the whirling (plus getting up at 4am), I was in entranced, to say the least.
Up, Up and Away
It was another crack o’ dawn wake up call, but this time, instead of catching a flight, it was for a hot air balloon ride. As the sun rose, it was magnificent to see over a hundred balloons in the air and the dramatic landscape below via the Royal Balloon tour company. With 48 hours in Cappadocia, this is an absolute must-do.
After a smooth landing and a sparkling wine toast, I was back at the hotel by 9 am to feast on a traditional Turkish breakfast. Since Cappadocia means “land of the well-bred horses”, what better excuse for a horseback ride? A horse ride with Dalton Brothers Horse Riding Tours through the Swords Valley, Rose Valley and Red Valley offered a different perspective of seeing the natural wonders up close.
To reflect on a jam-packed 48 hours in Cappadocia, I needed to chill out. A scrub and a soak in a Turkish bath at Elis Hamam Cappadocia was the perfect ending. Although I’m glad I got to experience the ancient city, I plan to return when I can spend more time relaxing and relishing in its stunning scenery.