Goreme: an adventure of a lifetime
So, you’ve purchased your holiday home and have exhausted all that your local area has to offer... what now? Well, how about renting a car and going on a road trip or taking advantage of the many tour operators and booking a trip to Göreme? This is exactly what we did, and we had the most amazing time.
We booked a small hotel in Avanos for three nights which we had been told was ample time to investigate the local area. One thing for sure that we knew we wanted to do was to take an iconic balloon trip across the Cappadocia plains. So, with Satnav in place, we started out travelling towards Antalya, which seemed totally the opposite direction to our destination, but with not that many main roads in Turkey to choose from, we placed our trust in technology.
The road to Konya passes through some spectacular landscapes; huge mountains that pierce the never-ending skyline. It was stunning! The road through the mountain pass was in quite poor condition, though with loose gravel. It certainly made the windy roads through the mountains quite hair raising at times. We were quite surprised at how quiet the road was. As a main road, the D695 was pretty spectacular and dotted all along were pretty little market stalls selling local honey and fruit.
A ring road passes around Konya, so we didn't see much of this town, but now the road straightened out and was amazing, so straight and so quiet!
As the journey continued, we passed through some small towns and the landscape changed.... gone were the mountain ranges, and the scenery opened up. At some points, the land was so flat and wide open we felt like we were in the American Wild West. Eerily beautiful, it felt like a whole new place!
Quite suddenly the Göreme National Park appeared in front of us. We were so excited to see rocky outcrops and pointed domes punctuate the landscape...we were getting close!
Avanos town was so charming. It had a very different feel to most other Turkish towns I’ve been in. Very quaint streets with hotels and shops dotted around or embedded into the local rock. Some people book to stay in cave hotels, but they were a little out of our budget. Our hotel was clean and simple, although the huge tiled bathroom was another story! We felt like we’d drifted into some Sheik’s bathroom by accident...it was gorgeous.
Although we travelled to Avanos by car, we decided to book a tour around the area with a company which our hotel happily organised for us. We felt that we would get a better overview and some history if we went with the experts. And it was a great decision. Our guide was knowledgeable, spoke great English and some German. Our tour bus was air-conditioned and sat up to 12 people, although we were a small group of 8.
Everything you’ve read about this place, every picture you’ve seen, just doesn’t do it justice. It's like some alien landscape, hewn out of the Earth. At times majestic and imposing, at other times whimsical and fairy like. I could explain how the rock formations were made, but really I don’t want to remove the awe inspiring wonder of Göreme National Park.
We clambered up smooth sided rocks, scrambled over rough escarpments and sought shade from the blistering sun in secluded caves. My biggest piece of advice would be to wear proper walking boots, hot but provided so much protection for your feet. I saw some clueless tourists trying to walk over rocks in flip flops! Not to be recommended. Also, take water as some of the walking takes place over areas not serviced by shops or markets...its thirsty work.
The following day we decided to go solo and see some of the places not covered by organised trips. We literally drove and anything we fancied seeing, we made a stop. At Ürgüp we stumbled across a Monastery which was so peaceful. We were the only people there and wandered around reading about the history of the Greeks and the Turks. It was fascinating and not something we knew about. We then drove into the small town looking for a café or restaurant. Luckily we found Vera Konak, a small hotel. It was an amazing find! The people heard us talking about their front door because it was so beautiful and they called down to us and invited us in. They gave us tea and then a guided tour around this ancient building. They were restoring it and very sympathetically, I might add, with so many original features.
From here we travelled on to Kaymakli Underground City. This place blew our minds.....underground caves that stretched over 8 stories downwards. Only 4 are open to visitors so as long as you aren't claustrophobic, this place should definitely be on your list of must go places. It was amazing to hear stories of the Anatolian people living below ground to escape marauding armies. There was a church, wineries, bedroom and kitchen spaces and massive ventilation shafts. These people were absolutely ingenious.
Our most abiding memory of this journey must be our balloon trip. To say I was nervous is an understatement but again our hotel came up trumps and booked us an early morning flight. We arrived at a field in pitch darkness at around 4:30 in the morning. The balloons lay like eerie ghosts on the dusty ground.
Then as the sun began to rise over the mountains, the roaring sounds of the burners echoed around the fields and the balloons began to rise like slumbering dragons, fire pouring out of their mouths. It was an incredible sight and everyone fell silent even the crickets and early morning birds. Quickly we all clambered into the wicker baskets, were given some safety instructions and then....whoosh...up we flew. Not quickly but silently we ascended. Balloon after balloon slowly drifted up and across the dawn sky. It was magical.
My nerves disappeared as the vista opened up before us. The sight of the Fairy Chimneys, the mountains, the caves, the villages was all very overwhelmingly beautiful.... we didn’t want it to end. But like all good things we returned to Earth with a slight bump, landing on the back of a trailer and with a glass of bubbly in hand we all celebrated our fantastic ride.