Cappadocia is a stunning region. Rent a car and explore its beauty, walk, drive, go up on the Hot air balloon, relax. There are so many things to do and enjoy the unusual landscape of this region. This region was our second stop in our 10-day trip to Turkey.
We stayed at Esbelli Evi and I cannot recommend this boutique hotel enough! A stay in a Cave Hotel is a great experience in Cappadocia. Valleys, rock formations and caves have formed naturally in this area, and some of these caves have housed people over the centuries.
The cave room, the lovely breakfast and all the helpful tips by the manager, Yasemin on our Cappadocia itinerary made the stay at Esbelli Evi wonderful. We did what Yasemin calls the ‘Highlights of Cappadocia‘. Our stay in Cappadocia was for 3 days, but you can see and do things in 2 packed days as well.
This was a dramatic change after our 3 sightseeing-filled days in Istanbul. We spent another 3 days in Istanbul before ending our Turkey trip. Do read – Istanbul Itinerary: Best places to visit in the city that straddles East and West
Day 1: Zelve, Goreme and Uchisar town
My husband and I did the Hot Air Balloon experience on separate mornings since the baby was not allowed on this and we did not want to miss the experience. He got up very early in the morning for his Hot Air Balloon ride. He loved the aerial view of the fantastical landscape in Cappadocia.
We booked the Hot Air Balloon ride with Butterfly Balloons. Both my husband and I had a good experience with them on our separate flights.
Yasemin, the hotel manager had organised an automatic car with a child seat in advance for us. The car was delivered to the hotel. We discussed our itinerary for the day with Yasemin and she made remarkable improvements to it, gave us a handy map and we were all set. My husband was driving on the right side for the very first time and hence was a bit cautious initially.
We started with Deverant or ‘Imagination’ valley. The interesting rock formations scattered all over as you drive through this valley do stretch the imagination!
We then moved to Zelve open air museum. Goreme is the more popular open museum in Cappadocia but it can also get very crowded. It was nice to have Zelve with so fewer people. I think Zelve was stunning and less touristy. It was already hot and we made slow progress with a toddler.
Cavusin was next on the agenda but walking around in Zelve valley (with the baby) had drained us and we decided to give it a miss. We then drove via Pashbagi (where you see some mushroom formations) to Goreme for lunch.
We went to Goreme open air museum and some guide in the parking lot told us it is crowded and hot and not a good time to visit with a baby. We should instead go to Avanos and he pulled out some pottery place card where we could see how the pottery is made and of course buy! We had no desire to go to Avanos but the number of tourist buses was a bit discouraging especially after having Zelve mostly to ourselves.
We decided to kill some time and drove towards Uchisar castle, saw the pigeon valley and Uchisar town. The road between Goreme and Uchisar has some great viewpoints (one right before Panorama restaurant) of the Goreme Valley and Uchisar town.
Then came back to Goreme museum. The churches were interesting and so was the Dark Church, but by now I was getting irritated at paying twice for this place.
It was evening by the time we finished but still a bit early to go to Kizilcukur (sunset point). Since we had nothing to do, we drove there and decided to wait for the awesome sunset that we were promised. Soon, in the next hour, the entire place was filled with buses and cars and people. There were some hiking trails marked from the valley to Cavusin which seemed interesting.
10 min before the sunset, the baby pooped. I being the first-time-hyper-mommy wanted to first change her and this took more time than I realized. Clean baby, no sunset….ah, well, such is life!
We drove back to the hotel after a packed and interesting day.
Day 2: Ilhara valley and Selme monastery
Today was my turn to get up early for the hot air balloon experience. And it turned out to be memorable.
Driving all over the day earlier had given me a good orientation of the region and I was able to relate easily to the Deverant valley, Zelve Valley, Rose Valley, Red Valley, and Cavusin. The landing was so smooth that the pilot told us not to bother with the landing position.
After a good breakfast at our hotel, the three of us drove out to explore a different area – Ihlara Valley.
Our first stop was at Kaymakli underground city. Kaymaklı underground city features a maze of tunnels and rooms carved 8 levels deep into the earth. My husband feels a bit claustrophobic and I wasn’t sure how Kaavya, my baby would react but we decided to experience the underground city. And we were glad we did!
Kaavya was asleep throughout the tour and it even though it broke my back carrying her, it turned out to be a good experience. It was bizarre to see the 8 different levels where people actually lived, stored their food, made wine, and prayed.
We then drove to Ihlara valley. It was good to drive through good straight roads with open fields on both sides, squashes lying in the open to be dried.
We had planned to see the Selme monastery and then do a short hike in the Ihlara valley. But sure enough, we got lost! The signboards we followed got us halfway to Aksaray before we realized something was amiss.
We retraced our steps back, found a very narrow road and took it, the road got even narrower as we entered the village and we heaved a sigh of relief as we found the 4 restaurants near a water stream where we had eaten a very good lunch (at one of them).
I bought the Ihlara valley tickets and instead of hiking along the stream where one can see some churches, we decided to drive to the Selme monastery. It is quite a climb but well worth the view. there are lots of photo opportunities with bizarre rock formations, interesting play of light and shadows. Everyone looked at us in disbelief as we carried the baby all the way up!
It was early evening and we were tired, so decided to skip the hiking along the stream. It wasn’t an easy decision given that we are unlikely to come back to this region.
On the way, it should have been a straight drive back to Urgup, except that we took some detour from Derinkuyu which was not towards Kaymakli and very soon landed up just 13 km short of Soganli monastery! Stunning scenery.
I consulted the map and yes, this was an expensive detour in terms of time. Had we been on our own, we would have driven to the Soganli monastery, but Kaavya was not happy in the child seat for so long. After much consultation with the map, we found our way back to Urgup.
Another packed and interesting day came to an end!
Day 3: Taking it easy
We decided to take it easy today. The baby had had enough of loony parents driving her around and walking in the hot sun.
We spent most of the day playing with her in the garden, except for a nice drive to Ayvali village for lunch. Shuttle transfer to the airport in the evening for a late flight to Izmir. We took this option only because it was a direct flight.
Tips for Things to Do in Cappadocia
1. Do the key sights on foot before you see them on the hot air balloon. I found this gave me a better perspective of the area we were flying over and I was able to appreciate all the views much more. A one-hour flight is enough for the experience. So if you need to save money, don’t hesitate to take the one-hour flight.
2. Goreme open air museum can be quite crowded, so either do it very early or in the late evening. And I found Zelve equally interesting though, for some reason, everyone goes to Goreme and not enough to Zelve.
3. Underground city experience is great. We like to do things at our own pace with the baby and hence don’t take group tours. We also prefer to read signboards and occasionally listen to audio guides instead of hiring personal guides. So I don’t know if a guided tour here would have enhanced our experience or knowledge.
Food in Cappadocia
The breakfast spread at our hotel, Esbelli Evi was excellent and set us up well for the long day ahead. We had nice meals mostly based on recommendations given by the hotel manager on local restaurants.
Lunch on the first day was at Orient restaurant in Goreme. The food is delicious and good value for money.
Yasemin had reserved a place at Ziggy’s for dinner that day and it was an enjoyable meal.
There are several restaurants near a water stream in Ilhara Valley, you could eat at any of them. We had chosen to go to Bellirsima for lunch.
We had a nice dinner at Han Ciragan in Urgup.
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