I took my Balloon trip in Goreme with Butterfly Balloons. I arranged the trip through the Kelebek Hotel nearby, which has an association with this Balloon company (See my review of Kelebek Hotel). In fact, Kelebek means Balloon in Turkish. The price can range depending on the season, so check the rates if you decide to book with them. Generally the prices will run 140-180 EUR. A bit expensive, but worth every cent. This is an excellent company to go with because they put safety as a number one priority. I had conversations with the owner at the Kelebek Hotel as well as the staff at Butterfly Balloons and the attitude is that they will fly only if they are sure the conditions are good. They don’t take chances and put the customer first. Other companies will fly when it is more risky, but for an adventure like this, I would prefer a company that puts safety first.
With this said, Butterfly Balloons has a great crew. Our pilot was a British man named Mike Green (Captain Mike as he is called) and he is an excellent pilot. He is well spoken, witty and enjoys explaining some of the aspects of Balloon flight. Aside from the flight, which is a magnificent experience, Captain Mike fills you in on his maneuvers and explains what is going on during the flight. The flight will last about 60-90 minutes and covers a fairly large area at various elevations, so there is much to see. There is a flyover around Goreme valley and then on to the landing. Captain Mike took us up into the clouds too for an interesting experience. After the landing there is a small celebration with Champagne and some treats, followed by some photo opportunities with Captain Mike in front of the Balloon basket.
I had the advantage of a friend on the ground to capture photos of a flyby over Kelebek Hotel, so got the perspective from up in the air and on the ground. This was one of the highlights of my trip to Cappadocia. Butterfly Balloons made it an extra pleasant experience with the personalities of the crew and pilot. I highly recommend a Beautiful Balloon trip and Butterfly Balloons as a company of choice should you have the chance to enjoy this activity in Cappadocia. It's out of this world in an otherworldly place! Check out a couple of short videos I captured while Butterfly Ballooning for a live action feel:
Love Valley (Baglidere in Turkish) is almost five kms long. We entered it at the bottom of Uchisar near the carpet store. It is much easier to do it that way ( Uchisar - Goreme) because of the steep descend not far from the beginning of the trail, which of course would be the ascend if you decided to walk from Goreme.
The valley has fantastic fairy chimneys taking phallic shapes that rise 50 metres high.It's due to these rocks looking like symbols of virility, that the valley got its name. But it is also called White valley because of the white colour of rocks - the result of mixing the tuff with lime.
Love valley, as most others in the region, has patches of greenery at some places, because the soil here is rich in minerals. I must confess to picking ( or rather sneaking) some grapes from the vineyards on the way. Sorry, but they were the best grapes I had ever eaten.
Pigeon Valley stretches between Goreme and Uchisar, so you can start the hike in either of the places, but the way from Goreme is a bit harder as you have to walk uphill more.
The valley took its name, as can be easily guessed, from hundreds of pigeons which used to find their homes in hollows made by farmers in the rocks. In those days the birds were used as message carriers and their droppings as fertilizers. However, there are hardly any pigeons in the valley today.
The hike through the valley offers spectacular views of man-made caves and fantastic rock formations. You pass through several tunnels, then - if you go from Goreme- the path leads up the hill to reach the village of Uchisar. From the bottom of the village you can see an impressive castle. Now there are at least two possibilities: you can go to the castle or turn right towards the entrance of Love Valley that will lead you back to Goreme. We chose the second option, which I regret now. It must be really exciting to explore the rooms and passages of this unusual castle. Besides from its top you can have a stunning view with Mount Erciyes in the background.
The walk through Pigeon Valley ( without getting to Uchisar castle) takes about an hour and a half.
Derikuyu is not the only underground city in Cappadocia. Actually, there are more than 40 of them. But Derinkuyu is the deepest and considered the most interesting.
It is 85 metres deep and consists of several levels. Inside it's well lit and well marked ( red arrows show the way of visiting and blue ones show the direction towards the exit). Be prepared that at some places the passages are low and narrow and you have to bend to walk through.
The exact date of building the underground cities is not known. They were already used by early Christians who fled here from persecutions. The last time they were used in 1839, when the inhabitants of Cappadocia hid from Egiptians. The cities were never permanent dwellings, but were used in times of trouble as a refuge. The inhabitants had at their disposal living quarters, communal rooms, stores, wineries, churches, schools, stables, etc. What surprises even today is excellent ventilation. So far about 50 ventilation shafts have been discovered, one of which is as deep as 50 metres. Also, there were wells, but not all of them were connected with the surface for fear of the water being poisoned. Special heavy round doors were devised to block the passages in case of an attack.
So well-equipped, people could stay in Derinkuyu and or other underground cities for long months.
Derinkuyu is about 40 kms from Goreme. If you want to get there by public transport, take a bus from Goreme to Neshevir, then change to Derinkuyu.
If you come to Pasabagi, Zelve Open Air Museum is so close that you should go there. The distance is about 0.5 km and we walked it along the main road. The admission fee is 8TL, which compared to the same price we paid for Cavusin church seems very reasonable.
Within the museum you can see a couple of churches and a mosque but the churches lack the beautiful frescoes of Goreme museum. Till 1952 Zelve was a living community where villagers went about their daily chores. So inside the caves you can find traces of their activity. There's a mill, winery, stables, and pigeonhouses. So here's another difference between Zelve and Goreme which was an ancient religious community.
The trails in Zelve are really well prepared - there are paved paths between the most important objects and some bridges. But of course you can walk off-the-beaten track and explore the valley on your own.
Pasabagi is located near the road to Zelve (about 0,5 km), between Goreme and Avanos. This place is popular with visitors and a lot of organised tours stop here on the way to Zelve Open Air Museum. There is no admission fee and in the vicinity there are a couple of souvenir stores and a place or two where you can drink or eat something ( actually, when we visited it the only thing to eat were pancakes stuffed with cheese and potatoes).
The name Pasabag means "Pasha's vineyard" and until about twenty years ago there were lots of vineyards and orchards here owned by the villagers from Cavusin. Because the place boasts uniquely shaped fairy chimneys, more and more tourists were coming there destroying the crops. Finally, the government decided to take over the land and it has become a touristic attraction.
The rock formations here are really worth seeing. The shapes of cones are unique, as some of them have twin or even triple caps.
The valley is also known as the Monks Valley because in the past some hermits of Cappadocia used to find their seclusion here. They carved out the chimneys from bottom to top creating rooms for themselves at the height of 10-15 metres.
Frankly speaking, walking around Cavusin proved to be for us a wonderful adventure and a failure in one. A failure, bacause we wanted to reach Pasabagi but got lost and wandered around at least doubling the distance we were going to cover on that day. And a great adventure because we found lots of interesting and beautiful places that otherwise we wouldn't have come across.
The first attempt was to walk according to the map - take the trail starting near the cemetary and follow it. But we failed to find a path and just walked several hundred metres along the ridge from which we had great views of the village and the rock wall. Next we asked a local guy, who definitely knew the way and explained it fairly well. We did a couple of kms along the path going up from the old village and on the way we found a couple of interesting rock houses, some of which seemed to be used as storerooms. The landscape opened up unfolding the stunning views of the mountains. We still went on taking in the beauty of the surroundings when we came to the spot where the paths were going in opposite directions. Which one to follow? Had the man said : "have the mountain on your right or left"? It was schorching hot, we had little water, so what could we do? Just go back.
We came to the village determined to walk to Pasabagi along the main road ( there was no bus for about an hour) but luckily managed to stop a passing car ( it was not the only time we hitchhiked in Cappadocia). Two Turkish gentlemen were kind enough to give us a lift to our destination - Pasabagi.
Concluding, it's not the aim that is most important, but the way. On the other hand, it's annoying that there are hardly any hiking maps available for the region.
I've just discovered a website: www.mapofcappadocia.com
Let's hope it will be of some help for those who are planning hiking in Cappadocia.
Nikephoros Phokas was a Byzantine general born in Cappadocia. He bacame an emperor by marrying the young widow of Emperor Romanos II. Apparently the marriage was not happy and a few years later he was murdered by his wife and her lover.
Nikephoros Phokas church stands by the Goreme - Avanos road. The church looks very impressive from the outside, but the interior may disappoint. There are frescoes depicting the emperor in the main apse and also scenes from the life of Jesus.
Taking into account the price of a ticket ( 8TL), I wonder if visiting the church is worth the money. After all, in Goreme Open Air Museum we can see ten churches for 15 TL. So perhaps instead of entering the temple, devote some time for a walk among the rock mushrooms which can be seen behind the church. It's free and really nice.
The village of Cavusin consists of two parts: so called Old Cavusin and a new one. The inhabitants of old Cavusin used to live in cave houses cut into an enormous rock wall. In 1963 part of the rock collapsed burying the people who were staying at home in time of the tragedy. The remaining population left their cave homes and moved to the part of the village called since then new Cavusin.
At the top of the old village there is what remained of St John the Baptist church. To reach it, follow a winding narrow path up the rock wall and cross a shaky footbridge near the top. The church consists of three naves separated by columns. The frescoes show the scenes from the life of John the Baptist. From the church there is a wonderful view over the village and its surroundings.
The old Cavusin has also a couple of restaurants and souvenir shops. The new part situated on the ground level is not a touristic but residential area.
If you want to get to Goreme or Avanos by bus, you must walk down the new village until you reach the main road. The bus stops right in front of the church of Nikephoros Phocas. There is no bus stop or timetable, but the locals will tell you what time the bus goes and where to wait for it.
Walking the Red and Rose Valleys was our first adventure in Cappadocia. Equipped in something exaggeratedly called a map and the instructions of our host, we set off on a hiking trip. We wanted to explore both valleys and reach Cavusin.
We start in Goreme and follow the road to Goreme Open Air Museum and then continue walking up to the Kaya campsite. A few metres further there is a hardly visible sign pointing to the left towards the Red Valley. After about half an hour we reach the Valley and here the surprise- there's an admission fee - 2 TL per person. Of course it's not much, but later nowhere else we have to pay for walking the valleys , so I wonder if it was not a cheat.
The landscape is getting more and more beautiful - lush green patches of vegetation surrounded by pink rocks look alluring. We walk down and find some misleading signposts so we don't know which direction to take. We decide to have a break in a cafe by Uzumlu Kilise (Grapes Church). We have fresh orange juice and talk to the cafe owner. He gives us the keys to the church which turns out really interesting inside. Following the advice of the man, we climb up the steep steps behind the church and admire the views. Then we wander around wanting to find a marked path back to the valley. There is one leading through the tunnel but we don't have a torch so we are afraid to follow it. From the ridge there is quite a steep descend to the bottom of the valley so we go down and continue our walk till the Red Valley Garden Tea. The old man there has only canned drinks and doesn't speak any language except for Turkish, but he clearly wants to make a conversation with us. After a short break we decide to go as there are still a couple of kms to walk. We pass the Rose Valley but don't want to lose the way again so we follow the marked path to Cavusin. Finally we make it!
Summing up, we had a great time although the trails are not sufficiently marked and the map showed nothing more than a general direction. Luckily, we had good walking shoes, as walking down at some places was quite hard. A bottle of water, especially in summer, is a must.
Above the town of Goreme there is a flat hill that serves as a local view point. It attracts many visitors, especially in the late afternoon, when the neighbouring rock formations are bathed in the golden light of the setting sun.
For me, though, the best time to go up there was at dawn. Since we couldn't afford a hot air balloon flight ( the price is 110 - 180 Euro per person), we decided to participate in this thrilling event as observers. And I must say it was an unforgettable experience.
When we came to the spot it was still dark and we could only hear the sound of the ballons being inflated. Slowly, together with the rising sun, the shapes began to emerge. Soon about a hundred of balloons started to ascend, both in the distance and very close to the place we were standing. A few came so closely that we could talk to the passangers in wicker baskets. The sight was spectacular - tens of ballons in different colours among the cones and chimneys of the rocks - some seemingly entwined by them, some boldly rising up to the sky.
Buckle Church (Tokali Kilise) is located outside the Goreme Open Air Museum but you must keep the museum ticket to get in. The church is just a couple of metres from the museum on the way back to the town.
The frescoes of this church are said to be among the best examples of tenth century Byzantine art. The scenes are presented in form of a story board, like in a comic book.
Actually, Tokali church is composed of two parts: the Old Church from the first part of 10th century and the new one from the turn of the 10 and 11th centuries. The apse of the first one was destroyed to allow the construction of the other. The frescoes in the two churches differ in colour. The predominant colours of the Old Church are pale shades of red and green and in the new one it is indigo.
One of the advantages of Tokali Kilise is the fact that organised groups seem to omit the place, so you can visit it in peace and quiet.
Dark Church ( Karanlik Kilise) in Goreme Open Air Museum is famous for its well preserved frescoes which have vivid colours. It is due to the lack of sunlight which otherwise would have caused the paint to fade away.
For a long time the church was inaccessible, originally there had been a secret passage leading to it. Itsimpressive facade was revealed when the rock concealing it collapsed. It looks like a facade of a free standing building. The frescoes inside depict the life of Jesus and include the scenes of Transfiguration, Last Supper or Crucifiction. The predominant colour is blue obtained from the mineral azurite.
Till 1950's the Dark Church was used as a pigeon house and it took a long time to remove the birds' droppings covering the frescoes.
Admission fee: 8TL
Goreme Open Air Museum is a UNESCO Heritage site. It is definitely worth seeing although I've heard some complaints about the crowds of tourists and the churches being similar to one another. As for the first objection, try to avoid peak hours. We visited it at noon, when most groups were probably eating lunch, so we managed to avoid the crowds.
If you want to understand what it was all about in the past, Goreme Open Air Museum is a must. So here's a bit of history ... By the end of the second century christianity became popular in Cappadocia. Soon the region grew into a Christian centre due to three priests known as Cappadocian fathers: st. Basil the Great - Bishop of Kayseri, his brother st. Gregory of Nyssa and st. George of Nazianzus. With the religion growing in popularity, churches were needed and in accordance with the local tradition, they were carved out of rocks. Most of the churches in Goreme museum date back to the 10-12th centuries and have beautiful frescoes inside representing the Byzantine art from post-iconoclastic period. Many of the frescoes have been vandalised. The faces and the eyes seem to have been purposefully scratched out.
The churches were a part of a big complex including a nunnery and monastery. There were living and sleeping rooms, storage places, wineries, kitchens and dining halls. The refectories are easily distinguishable due to still existing 'furniture' in form of long benches and tables made by carving the rock.
The cave dwellings could also provide shelter in case of enemy approaching. Then the whole community could disappear in the rock houses and with enough food and water wait for the intruders to go away.
When Cappadocia became part of the Ottoman empire, the churches were no longer needed. They were abandoned and occasionally used by shepherds. In the second half of the 20th century the frescoes and the churches were restored and in 1984 the UNESCO Heritage site was declared here.
Admission: 15TL (without Dark Church)
The town of Goreme is situated in the centre of the famous region of Cappadocia. There are quite a lot of attractions lying within the walking distance from the town, f.e. Goreme Open Air Museum, Red, Pigeon and Zemi Valleys or Uchisar ccastle. You can also easily get from there to other Cappadocian highlights (Derinkuyu, Pasabagi, Zelve valley) using public transport.
There are a lot of stunning rock formations right in the town centre, which makes Goreme an unusual place to stay.
Goreme offers a wide variety of accommodation, including cave hotels. There are also a lot of bars and restaurants where you can have meals in different price range. The town is especially popular with young people, but being young at heart we didn't feel out of place there.
With a lot of travel agencies based in Goreme, you can easily join one of organised day trips that will take you to an underground city, the valley of Ihlara and of course to a carpet or pottery shop. We chose to move around on our own, which was less comfortable, but definitely cheaper and more adventurous.