Sarah Spencer, Cicerone’s Sales Manager, explores the extraordinary rock structures of the Cappadocia, in Turkey, and concludes a journey tracking down some old memories while she’s there.
As a child I spent many happy days during the long summer holidays tucked away in my uncle’s study. Idwal was a geography teacher, and his study was jam-packed full of books, rock samples, photographs and journals collected from his far-flung travels. He would captivate me with stories about places he’d visited, and would encourage me to look through photographs and rummage through his rock collections.
From those happy days a number of places stuck deep in my memory, and filled me a yearning to visit them: the rock-cut city of Petra; Egypt’s Western Desert, which Idwal explored widely during his time there in the war; and the moonscape slopes that surround Mt Etna, to name a few. While my collection of books and photographs is nowhere near as impressive as Idwal’s had been, I still love to spend time looking back at the amazing places he’s inspired me to visit.
I’ve been fortunate to follow in Idwal’s footsteps and visit virtually all the places that had inspired me so deeply as a child. Earlier this year I was able to tick off the final destination on my ‘Idwals list’ – Cappadocia in Turkey.
When he first showed me the photos of the rock formations there, and told me they were fairy chimneys, I was sure that he was pulling my leg. But I can confirm they are in fact real. Cappadocia is filled with unique geological formations. The soft rock means that the area is packed full of rock cut churches, underground cities, pigeon houses and ‘fairy chimneys’ (tall, cone-shaped rocks), formed over thousands of years by the winds and the rains. The erosion process continues, so the area is slowly but constantly changing and I was totally captivated by it.
We based ourselves in the town of Goreme, a tourist town that has grown up in, as well as on, this unusual rock. Our hotel was one of the wonderful cave hotels that can be found in the area, and our room had literally been carved out of the rock. Before we headed out there we’d decided the best way to get the most out of our week would be to hire a local guide from Middle Earth Travel. I can highly recommend you do this as we felt that we saw so much more of the area, and also found more about the local food, cultures and people.
We had four full day walks organised, and a couple of days’ mountain biking. In the past few years the area has emerged as a great place to bike, so it seemed a shame to come all this way and not check out the trails. Each day offered something different, as we explored off the beaten track villages, mind-blowing panoramas, lunar landscapes and fast flowing single track trails.
On our first full day we drove for about an hour to the Ilhara Valley, a 13km gorge through volcanic rock. After a short but steep drop down into the gorge we spent a few hours meandering along the bottom following the river, before stopping at one of many local family-run restaurants for lunch. The valley walls are full of churches, monasteries and houses carved out of the soft rock, and have been inhabited by ancient civilizations over the years. Later that day on our way back to Goreme we stopped and explored Kaymakli – an underground city eight stories deep! It’s a real labyrinth of rooms and passageways, and over the years the city has saved many from their enemies. It is believed there are many more as yet undiscovered cities in the area, and excavation work is starting in other areas.
For the next couple of days we based ourselves at our hotel and explored the myriad of valleys that lie on the doorstep of Goreme. Although the valleys are each only a few miles long, and closely interconnected, they all have their own distinct personalities. For lunch we tended to stop at small family-run restaurants, where there was no menu: the choice was simply the one dish they had prepared that day. The food was delicious, and this proved a great way to experience real local food, which was so unlike the tourist menus in the town.
On day four we swapped our walking boots for mountain bikes. Unlike most of the UK the area is open access, so if you want to ride up, down or across it then go for it: the only thing stopping you is whether you feel brave enough. The terrain is rock hard in places, and sandy in others: it took a while to get used to the sand and I fell off more than once, but I least I had a lovely soft landing.
To begin with we explored the lower valley on dirt tracks, before starting to climb up into the head of the valley on some mind-blowing single track or other. After a wonderful lunch at another local restaurant we headed further into the valley before turning back for some terrifying descents back down into the Goreme.
The next day we headed back into the same area, but we took a different way in, gaining the height more rapidly with some wonderful photo opportunities along the way. After a quick coffee stop at the panorama point at the top of the valley we headed right on a dirt trail that hugged the ridge all the way down into the town of Cavusin.
Our guide smiled as we finished up our coffees, and said ‘Now we do Epic trail’. Feeling slightly nervous (OK, absolutely terrified) we plunged off the edge and wound our way onto the tiny single track. There were some short sections of exposure that got the heart racing, but I loved every single moment of it. When we made the final descent into the village of Cavusin I was grinning from ear to ear.
On our final day we headed into Love Valley, which takes its name from the many phallic shaped rocks that adorn the area, and climbed up to the town of Urgup for lunch. Here we sampled some delicious pide (a Turkish pizza) at a local restaurant then headed down in Goreme for the last time after a fantastic week exploring the area.
So now my list is done, where next? Working for Cicerone I’m always surrounded by books, photographs and proposals for great trails, stunning mountain regions and inspiring destinations. I just need to narrow the list down a bit and plan the next trip…got any suggestions for me?
Cappadocia, in central Turkey
The region enjoys long hot summers and cold winters (they get snow here). We visited in early October and enjoyed blue skies and temperatures around 20°. April–June and September–October are good times of year to visit.
We flew Turkish Airlines to Kayseri (via Istanbul). Our guide met us at the airport, but Turkish Airlines offer a transfer service that coincides with the flights. We hired hard-tail mountain bikes from Middle Earth Travel.
Fantastic food, friendly people, great walking and awesome single track mountain biking. The area is also world famous for hot air ballooning trips.