On the evening of my third day in Turkey, we took a short flight west on an intercontinental journey to Asia. We packed our bags, said a sweet goodbye to Istanbul, and set out to travel to the historic landscape of Cappadocia, located in the heart of the country. Parting from Istanbul pulled at my emotions having quickly found my heart full with love for the magic of the city. There is so much to see and explore, three days didn't feel like enough time to breathe in the history found in every corner. But after a marvelous albeit exhausting few days, as most of our group was jet lagged, we were ready for the slower pace of the Turkish countryside. And we would not be disappointed.
When we stepped out of the plane we were immediately struck by the the cold bite in the air. We likened Istanbul to San Francisco, at least in regards to seasonal weather, with the Bosphorous and surrounding seas keeping Istanbul a cool 50 - 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C) in the winter. Which is of course like t-shirt weather for this Mainer acclimated to colder climates and freezing temperatures. Cappadocia felt a little more like home with fresh spots of snow on the ground and temperatures that can drop into the single digits at night.
Formed by volcanoes approximately 9 million years ago, Cappadocia, in the Anatolian region of Turkey, had it's human beginnings around 1200 - 500 BC as Hatti settled by the Hittites. After the fall of the Hittites, the land changed hands often, occupied by the Persians, Armenians, and Romans. During the Roman Era, the vast landscape of Cappadocia became home to early followers of Christianity fleeing religious persecution. Around 300 AD Cappadocia became an important monastic center with great churches sculpted into the soft volcanic rock bearing elaborate paintings of biblical tales created by the early Byzantine artists. This region, and the development of Göreme in particular, became an integral part of the development of Christianity. Cappadocia even appears in the Bible in the book of Acts 2:9 with Cappadocians being named as one of the groups to hear the gospel account from Galileans. Cappadocia is truly a fascinating region so important to the chronicle of humanity with parts being named UNESCO world heritage sites in 1985. There is so much history to be discovered, be it exploring high in the cliffs of the ancient cave dwellings or adventuring down into the dark network of underground cities with pathways hundreds of feet below the ground, you'll be sure to be left in awe.
Arriving in Cappadocia late in the evening, we were split into two groups and shuttled to our hotels. My group stayed at the Kayakapi Cave Hotel, nestled high on the cliffs overlooking the twinkling lights of the quiet town below. To get to my room you had to walk down steep graded switchbacks of cobblestone roads made accessible by golf carts and staircases. You can tell attention was paid to every inch of this beautiful hotel with giant pottery laid gently in the manicured gardens used to compliment the otherworldly views. The rooms themselves are intricately carved out of the mountainside and furnished with unique pieces. My room came equipped with two working vintage rotary phones, a gift basket of fruit, fresh nuts, and dried apricots, a much needed complimentary caffeine corner, a wonderfully romantic bath tub that took at least a half hour to fill, and my favorite part - a traditional turkish hamam, or bath.
I entered the room unsure of what to expect but I remember feeling overwhelmed by how unique an experience - to sleep deep in a cave like the early settlers from centuries ago - just with surprisingly fast wifi.
With the decline of tourism in the country and off season statistics, the people of rural Cappadocia have been hit particularly hard as the region depends heavily on the industry, leaving the little city within this hotel particularly quiet and empty. I spent hours with my notebooks during our free time sitting on the ledges overlooking Ürgup and Göreme journaling every moment I could for fear of losing the details. At dusk the lights of the towns twinkled in the distance and I couldn't help but stay up late watching the people settle in for the night. With my travels primarily in North America thus far, I had never experienced anything like this. In the pale moonlight I could image myself transported back in time to walk the cobblestone streets of an ancient civilization set safe on a hill to watch the vast empire disappear into the horizon. It was pure magic.
On our first day we took a guided tour of the Byzantine open air churches of Göreme National Park - a vast ancient monastic complex with over 10 cave churches. You can wander through each chamber walking in the footsteps of the early settlers. The solid rock was sculpted into beautiful rooms of worship decorated with ornate and surprisingly well preserved painted murals of Christian literature - you can truly feel the importance of this place to the people that built it as a sanctuary to a growing religion. Photography isn't allow in many of churches as flash degrades the integrity of the paintings but the intricately detailed caverns are definitely worth a look!
We stopped for lunch at a local buffet to enjoy the views of Pigeon valley, aptly named for the thousands of pigeons that have made a home here for centuries. Traditionally pigeons in Cappadocia were kept for their nutrient rich droppings used by the early settler's as fertilizer for their vineyards for the production of wine. You can still see the ancient pigeon houses in small uniform rows of caves carved out of the rock cliffs that made easy nests for the birds to roost as well as a more efficient way to harvest the fertilizer. Overlooking the valley was a quaint bazaar with friendly shopkeepers and a tree that had nearly every inch covered in the beautiful glass circles of turquoise called the Turkish eye, used to ward off evil.
Our tour guide was a local who knew of the best overlooks so we found a spot on a hill to enjoy sunset amongst the fairy chimneys. We hiked a small trail with enough height to survey the landscape as the sun fell behind the mountains and shaded the countryside in vibrant color. It was quite a sight with 30 travel bloggers and photographers working together to be in the moment while hustling to work on content for our various platforms. I live for collaborations with that creative energy in the air and the sun at our shoulders left alone to do what we do best - create - with each of us bringing a new perspective to the landscape we are shooting. Even though we shared this time and experience together, we all came away with wildly different photos each taken in our own unique vision.
Cappadocia has some of the best conditions in the world for flying and full advantage is taken with hundreds of hot air balloons lifting off every morning to dot the horizon with the rising sun. It's hard to find a bad viewpoint in the surrounding villages, all you have to do is look around in the early light to marvel at the miracle of this region with glittering sands said to shift in color depending on the time of day and balloons as far as the eye can see.
I was grateful for the opportunity for two balloon rides during my time in Cappadocia, where I was able to capture hundreds of photos of unbridled magic - nearly every shot was worth keeping. If you ever make it here, take a ride with Royal Balloon, the experience was absolutely unforgettable. Before sunrise we were carted from hotel to Royal Balloon HQ via shuttles for a full complimentary open buffet breakfast of bread, cheese, fruit, and so much more to enjoy. After we were overfull and happy we hopped back on the shuttle for a short ride to our take-off location nestled snuggly in a valley between fairy chimneys. For all you fearless adventurers out there, ask for Tolga the crazy pilot for a hilarious hour in the air. His quick wit and jovial personality really made of a memorable experience.
At altitude, there is a hushed quiet and peace as we huddled together in the small basket whispering our awe and taking in the 360 degree views of the landscape while Tolga maneuvered confidently between fairy chimneys. After our hour, with precise movements and years worth of flight time, our pilot touched down the balloon on the back of a truck while the crew set to tying us down. With our feet back on the earth we were treated to champagne, cookies, and a medal to commemorate our successful flight together.
After our ballooning adventure we were shuttled back to our hotels with a day of free time ahead of us to pack and clean for our departure in the early morning. I spent my time napping from long nights and busy days.
At sunset, my new friends and I decided to take a taxi ride to Sunset Point in Göreme to discover Rose Valley for our last evening together in Cappadocia and man, were we in for quite a gift. Rose Valley is a majestic landscape formed by volcanoes and sculpted by erosion with sand that shimmers rich in the color of rose gold when the sun sets. I wandered down alone in search of an overlook along the winding paths into the valley lightly kissed by the first snow. Camping and hiking are both welcome and easily accessible here, and I hope to make it back one day with time enough to spare to explore valley and camp under the stars.
Overall, my experience in Turkey is something I will always carry with me rich in the confidence I've gained here. Personally, this trip was a giant leap for me in a lot of important ways - taking that jump to finally conquer that last bit of fear needed to find freedom. This adventure brought me to my first steps taken outside of North America, as well as my first steps in both Europe and Asia, as Turkey occupies both continents. Since I was a teenager it's been on my bucket list to hear the call the prayer echo through an ancient city, so on my first night as I settled into my room so utterly anxious and filled with excitement for the journey ahead, I got to witness my first ezan as it resonated from the nearby Blue Mosque at dusk - I stepped out onto the balcony filled with sudden calm and I wept.
For now, I said a sad goodbye and a see you soon, reluctant to leave this amazing country and grateful for an opportunity to experience such a warm culture. I have fallen endlessly in love with the rugged landscapes and the beautiful warm hearted people that live here. I can't wait for April to return for more adventures in Istanbul for the Inflow Travel Conference!
Thank you to Turkish Airlines, Inflow Travel, and many of the other brands and hotels that provided us such an exceptional experience.
Thank you so much for reading! Tesekkür ederim!
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Although this event was sponsored and organized by Inflow Travel & Turkish Airlines, all opinions remain entirely my own based upon my own personal experience.