Cappadocia – Three Days in the Land of the Beautiful Horse
Turkey is such a vast country with some amazing inland sights and we were really keen to see the other-worldly landscape of Cappadocia. During our summer cruising, we don’t get to do much inland travel. Usually it’s because finding somewhere reasonably priced where it’s safe to leave Emerald for a few days is rarer than finding hen’s teeth. However, based on advice from the great group of sailors we wintered with in Crete we came along to the Ersoy restaurant pontoon in Orhaniye where they kindly allowed us to leave Emerald for a very modest sum.
Göreme, the focal point of Cappadocia is 800km from where we were moored and being travellers on a budget, we decided to go with the bus endurathon to take us there, a not very fun inspiring 13 hour journey. After problems buying tickets online, the Suha ticket office at Marmaris bus station was very helpful, the man in charge thankfully speaking very good English. We boarded at 6:30pm on a hot day, leaving the inside of the bus close to oven temperature even with the air con on high. However, once we got underway, roof windows were opened and a welcome breeze blew in.
The seats were more comfortable than a typical bus, reclined (except for Colin’s, which was broken) and had small TVs set into the seat in front. Ours didn’t work despite the best efforts of our conductor, but it was OK as the films were all dubbed into Turkish anyway. The only downside was that we didn’t have the USB charger working as it was built into the TV. We entertained ourselves watching films on a tablet instead.
Our driver was not hanging around, the bus rattling and hurtling it’s way around the mountain bends, but mostly we were on well made and quiet roads; although a section of gravelly, un-metalled road being worked on was particularly exciting. A conductor comes with the bus, ours was a lovely guy providing regular hot and cold drinks and biscuits after dark (in keeping with the Ramadan fasting times) and checking everyone was on that should be after each stop. As well as stops to pick up and drop off, the bus also made two longer stops at motorway service station type places.
We had a few hours of travelling before darkness fell and I spent the time enjoying the spectacular scenery whizzing by, ranging from high mountain passes to flat, fertile plains. Once dark I managed a little bit of sleep, contorting myself into half comfortable positions but mostly doing an impression of a nodding (and dribbling) dog. I highly recommend an eye mask and ear plugs. At dawn I awoke to find us travelling along a so-straight-it-could-have-been-built-by-Romans road through a flat as a pancake landscape with fields and agricultural buildings as far as the eye could see. As we motored on east, a dark pimple became faintly visible through the rosy haze, darkening as we got closer into a snow streaked dormant volcano.
We arrived at 8am to the deserted bus station at Göreme and walked the short distance to our accommodation. We’d seen photos of the bizarre landscape as we’d researched the trip but to be amongst them was something else; we really felt that whilst we were sleeping we’d been transported to another planet, a Hobbit type world with pointy topped houses for it’s residents.
At the B&B we were delighted to see the fairy chimney into which it was built and within which was our room. Being so early our room was still occupied but our host Britt provided a filling breakfast of omelette, fruit and bread with topups of tea or coffee, perfect for reviving us weary travellers. To pass the time until our room was ready, we walked the 15 minutes up to the Open Air Museum and to get a better look at the crazy landscape.
The fairy chimneys were everywhere, weather eroded into bizarre cone and pyramid shapes. The chimneys are all that remain of volcanic activity millions of years ago when hard lava was laid over softer ash. As time has gone by and the rocks have weathered at different rates, the landscape has been left with these shapes where a hard cap sits atop the compressed ash cone underneath. We saw chimneys in all states of development, from those that had lost their cap and were wearing away to nothing to baby chimneys being ever so slowly formed as wind and water did their work.
Open Air Museum
The Open Air Museum is a collection of chimneys into which churches, monasteries and refectories were carved when Christians colonised the area in the 10th to 13th centuries. Frescoes depicting scenes from the bible covered the ceilings and walls along with more basic markings made with red ochre that reinforced our idea that we were on an alien planet. We noticed many of the faces had lost their eyes; apparently shepherd boys used to use the faces as target practise for throwing pebbles at.
Open Air museum
Back at our accommodation our room was ready. It exceeded our expectations, with a large, comfy bed, a sofa and traditional Turkish decorations. We even had a bath with jets. It was so relaxing it was hard to leave, but eventually after a little rest we dragged our weary bodies out for a walk in order to make the most of our short time here.
Red and Rose Valleys
We headed out to walk towards the Red and Rose Valleys, recommended as the best walking area. The path led us through narrow gaps between chimneys, at times following the narrow channels made by water flow and up and down steep slopes where the surface was unexpectedly grippy. The rock colours started off as shades of cream, then we passed through an area of bright white where instead of chimneys, the rocks had been eroded into twisting curls and swirls like the path a snake leaves in sand. We emerged onto the edge of a steep cliff side where we had an awesome view of the pale rose and darker red shades on the opposite side. It’s pretty obvious where those valleys get their names!
Carefully making our way down the slope we followed signs to get a closer look but ran out of time due to needing to get back for my belated birthday treat – a two hour horseback rise through the stunning landscape.
Starting at 5:30pm and billed as a sunset trip, I was surprised I was the only customer. The horses were saddled and waiting and I was glad I didn’t make a fool of myself getting on my bay horse Niffy; luckily some muscle memory had remained from my riding lessons many years ago. Off we went at a gentle walking pace, Abdullah leading on his grey, along the route we had walked a short while ago. I was a little concerned going down some of the steep tracks but soon got to trust the nimble feet of my steed. On the uphills she would get up a bit of speed to build some momentum, a bit of an unexpected surprise when it first happened!
We continued on past our turning point from earlier and on through a weirder and weirder landscape. We passed through tunnels carved by rivers before heading up ever steeper inclines. Coming upon a cafe built into the rock we dismounted to wait for sunset and enjoyed a freshly squeezed orange juice. It was worth the wait as the golden rays of the sun did beautiful things with the the colours of the rocks.
As the sun glowed red we mounted up again and began the journey back to base. Having come up so far this meant we had to go down. Some tense moments as we negotiated some of the steep paths but I now had faith in Niffy despite her attempts to grab a mouthful of food at every opportunity! We had a brief trot once back on the flat which I think I managed with some dignity intact.
I was grinning like a fool (despite the sore bum) for the rest of the evening. What a wonderful experience, the most extreme place I’ve ridden on horseback and even though there were moments when I felt a frisson of fear, once I put my trust in my horse, I could sit back (heels down of course) and enjoy the adventure. I now want more!
Sunset colours were beautiful
Day 2: The Green Tour – Underground City, Ilhara Valley, Selime Monastery
After a simple but filling meal at Fat Boys, we had a very restful night’s sleep. A lie in was not allowed the next day though as we needed time to fortify ourselves with another breakfast ready for a day of touring around the southern part of Cappadocia. There are various day tours available which were all bookable through our accommodation, we chose the Green Tour (100TL per person) which involved some longish drives to take us to the multi-level underground city of Derinkuyu, followed by a walk through the Ilhara Valley, lunch and rounded off with the Selime monastery. With a couple of viewpoints thrown in and the obligatory try-to-sell-you-something stop at an onyx factory.
We were picked up from our hotel and after a bit of minibus shuffling heading off to the first stop – a viewpoint overlooking Göreme. There were 15 of us on the tour of various nationalities. Our guide was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and provided commentary in English and Turkish.
The next stop was 40 minutes drive to the town of Derinkuyu where a underground cities lies. There are quite a lot of underground cities in the area but this is the deepest one and we were able to get down to the 8th level. Their exact use isn’t known, but the guess is that these tunnels were built for sanctuary in times of attacks from invaders during this area’s often savage past. Thousands of people could live and survive down there and the cities are very well thought out – wells that don’t connect to the surface so they can’t be poisoned, ventilation shafts, fake exits so that invaders couldn’t find a way in, narrow tunnels where invaders could be easily killed and huge circular stones that could seal access to the tunnels. There were rooms for animals – near the top so they didn’t have to squeeze down the narrow bits, a church, living rooms, storage rooms, wine cellars, school rooms and even a mortuary so the dead could be stored before being transported to the surface. The temperature noticeably dropped as we descended lower. Having a guide to explain what we were seeing was a real bonus.
We were taken along one way only passageways, down winding stairways and through larger communal rooms. Most of it was well lit with modern electric lighting, but the tunnel down to mortuary was left spookily dark. The previous tenants used smoke free linseed oil lamps to light their way.
Back above ground it was back in the bus for the 20 minute drive to the Ilhara Valley. The guide claimed it was the second longest canyon to the Grand Canyon, but then I remembered the Samaria Gorge claiming to be the longest, but maybe there’s a difference between gorges and canyons!
In previous times, caves were cut out of the steep canyon walls in which Christian people lived. There are a couple of churches with frescoes decorating the ceilings but most of the paintings have been damaged. In the bottom of the valley a river runs; the name of the canyon means ‘warm water’ as the source is within a close by, dormant volcano. Due to the presence of the river, the canyon is very verdant with lots of trees for shade and plenty of wildflowers still in bloom.
After a descent down steps we arrived at the valley bottom for a look inside the church of Saint Daniel. We then had a pleasant 4km walk alongside the river to the next pickup point. It was a striking contrast to be walking by a river after the desert like environment around Göreme.
Many of the trees lining the way are Russian Oil Trees. They have a pleasant smell and a silvery coloured leaf. As we walked under some of them we’d get drops of water falling onto us. There were a few clouds in the sky but nothing that looked dark enough to rain. It tasted like fresh water and only ever fell when we were under the trees. Our theory was that it was actually quite humid in the valley and water was condensing on the leaves until it formed large enough drops to fall. Who knows if we were right or not.
Next stop was a very welcome lunch, included in the tour price. All the meals were served in sizzling pots with a choice of several dishes available. I had trout which was very tasty, Colin had a beef casserole. Rounded off with a lentil soup, side salad and plenty of warm bread we were pleasantly satisfied. It was much better than we expected, our only minor disappointment was that we didn’t get to sit at the restaurant’s river tables.
Our last main stop was at the monastery of Selime, which was carved out of the rocks way back in the 8th and 9th centuries and used by many different civilisations. After a description of the site we were left to clamber up the steep chimney sides to explore the rooms and passages.
The last leg was an hourish drive back to Göreme. After plenty of wandering around and the filling lunch, it was hard not to keep our eyelids from closing. The scenery managed to keep me from falling asleep though – lots of rolling agricultural land topped off with a dormant volcano.
There was the obligatory try to sell us something stop, for us it was an onyx factory. After a short explanation about the semi-precious stones of Turkey, we were shown into the showroom. So much bling we needed sunglasses! Amongst the gaudy items there was lots of beautiful jewellery on display with many different colours. I admit I did succumb to a pair of blue stud ear rings as a belated birthday present.
Snow streaked Hasan Dagi
And then onto the last stop, another fabulous viewpoint, this time over looking pigeon valley. Named because of the many pigeon holes cut into the rocks for the birds to roost. Behind the holes was a large space where the droppings would collect. This was then gathered up to use as fertiliser – ingenious and natural!
We thought the tour was excellent value for money given that the 100TL included all entry fees (underground city and Selime), a good lunch, lots of miles driven and the services of a guide who made the trip that much more enjoyable with his good humour and wealth of knowledge.
We went out that evening to catch sunset from the viewpoint behind our B&B. Unfortunately the sun wasn’t putting on much of a display that night but it was still a pretty view.
Day 3: Avora, Pasabag, Love Valley
For our last day we choose to take a more relaxed pace. Several of the locations that you can visit on a Red Tour can easily be reached on the local dolmus which runs every hour around the villages. Our first stop was to the town of Avora, known for it’s pottery. The journey only cost 3TL each, took 20 minutes and gave us a view of more of the fairy chimney landscape.
Avora has the Red River running through it. We expected it to be a dried river bed at this time of year but no, it was a big river with plenty of water in it. Families of ducks and geese paddled against the fast flowing current, dashing off to one side of the other depending on where the bread feeders were standing. We looked in a few pottery shops but nothing caught our interest.
Back on the bus our next stop was Paşabag, known for it’s bizarre formations. It didn’t disappoint and we spent almost an hour wandering on and off the laid pathways. What limited our time was the large, black clouds looming on the horizon. A check of a lightning strikes website showed a band of thunderstorms closing in on us. We’d wanted to take the bus to have a walk in Love Valley, but took the discretion is better than a soaking option of heading back to the safety of Göreme until the storms passed.
Back in Göreme we sat out the downpour drinking çay in a cafe and browsing a map looking for other ways to see Love Valley. It looked like a road ran out the top of the town that should give us a view looking down into it. Blue skies had returned so off we went, finding the side road on a section of the steep main road coming into Göreme It was more of a track in places and with more dark clouds gathering on the horizon, we hurried off down it to try and find a good viewpoint. Every time we turned a corner we’d hope for the view, every time dashed by fields of vines. Finally we got what we were looking for and had a fine view of the phallic chimneys that give the valley it’s name.
We really expected to get a soaking on our way back but arrived back at the B&B just as the first fat plops of rain began to fall. Our hosts had allowed us to keep our bags there during the day and were happy to let us sit as long as we wanted. We watched as the sky lit up, the wind and rain rattled the windows and enjoyed a good chat with Britt and Bekir. Eventually the rain let up enough for us to head out for a leisurely meal before our 8pm bus.
This time both our TVs and chairs worked and our driver was much less eager with his speed. Sleep came on and off as there seemed to be a lot more change over of passengers than on the outward journey. We had an unsettling experience at Denizli where a number of passengers got off to transfer to Pamukkale. A man got on with an A4 piece of paper with my name printed out in big letters and said we should get off. We refused; as far as we knew this bus went direct to Marmaris. Whether it was a scam or simply a mistake we’ll never know. The bus was also stopped by a police checkpoint – they gave a cursory glance at our passports but took all the Turkish passengers’ ID cards away to be checked before returning them a short time later.
So would we recommend this trip? Cappadocia absolutely! We had most of 3 full days there, an extra day would have given us a more leisurely time but of course with that comes extra costs. The town was fairly quiet at the beginning of June – there is a noticeable fall in visitor numbers according to our hosts. There was no end of organised activities you could do there – horse riding, guided walks, ATV safaris and of course the famous balloon flight. We didn’t see any balloons go up as the weather only allowed for morning flights whilst we were there and we were soundly sleeping at that time. We choose not to do a balloon tour as one of us suffers from severe vertigo but due to the fall in visitors there were some good deals to be had.
And travelling by bus? It was long but very cheap given the distance we travelled. It served a purpose and I think travelling through the night meant plenty of the time was passed asleep. Given the number of good value tours available along with the dolmuş, not having a car with us wasn’t an issue.
The bus journey each way was provided by Suha travel who run a daily direct service between Marmaris and Göreme and back again.
Our accommodation was provided by Anatolia Cave Pension and we stayed in room 104.
Horse riding was provided by Dalton’s Ranch.