A Land Like No Other: Cappadocia

I don’t want to go to Cappadocia – said no one ever. Cappadocia is my favorite region in Turkey. I have visited it more than ten times and will never turn down the opportunity for another visit. It is a region located in central Anatolia in Turkey, which is home to narrow and picturesque valleys, hundreds of ancient churches, and intriguing rock formations shaped by volcanic activity.

Travel Poll - Solo Travels
Cappadocia – Turkey

The dramatic landscape of Cappadocia is a result of volcanic activity, but what truly makes it unique is the remains from the earlier civilizations in the region that are still present in all their glory today. You can visit churches carved into stone by early Christian communities, test your limits for narrow spaces in thousands of years old underground cities, and hike through valleys. Despite all the features being present, Cappadocia never feels like one of those places that give you the feeling of visiting a theme park rather than an area that witnessed thousands of years of civilization. It never feels tacky and genuinely makes you feel like you have been transported to centuries ago.

Where is Cappadocia?

Cappadocia is located in central Turkey (in a region that we, the Turks, call inner Anatolia). Thanks to two regional airports—Nevsehir Airport and Kayseri Airport (about a 40-50 minute drive from the area, depending on which town you stay in, Cappadocia)—from Istanbul. For those staying in Urgup, Kayseri Airport is the closest choice. On the other hand, Nevsehir Airport is merely 30 minutes away from Uchisar and Goreme, my favorite region in Cappadocia. The area is also served by overnight buses from Istanbul or Antalya, one of Turkey’s most popular summer destinations.

Cappadocia Turkey
Uchisar – Cappadocia

Cappadocia is not a place to visit for just a few days. It is a place to take your time and soak up the otherworldly atmosphere. It is a place to take long walks without worrying about where the road leads. You will be tempted to take every side route leading you to one of the many wonderful and centuries-old rock-carved churches, underground cities, or picturesque valleys.

Cappadocia Turkey
Mount Erciyes as seen from Uchisar.

Cappadocian churches always remind me of a scene from the movie English Patient where Kip takes Hana inside a church and lifts her up with a flashlight so that she can see the ancient drawings on the walls—the frescoes in Cappadocia’s churches are even more impressive.

Where to stay in Cappadocia?

There are three main towns in Cappadocia where visitors base themselves: Urgup, Goreme, and Uchisar. Goreme used to be the prime backpackers’ choice (now upper-scale accommodation options have become as common), whereas Uchisar appeals to visitors looking for a little bit more privacy. Urgup, on the other hand, is the most well-equipped of the three and feels more like a small city than a town.

Urgup: the busiest town in Cappadocia

Urgup is the most developed town in the region. It has its own advantages (greater selection of restaurants, accommodation options for every budget group, etc.) in addition to the obvious downsides (being not nearly as pretty as the other two towns).

Over the course of the last decade, I stayed in two beautiful hotels in Urgup—Yunak and Esbelli Evi. Both were great, with amazing views, as they are located in the old district of Urgup rather than in the modern and less inspiring part of the town. Their owners changed, so I cannot attest to their current service quality, but I just hope that both still offer a pleasant experience.

One of my favorite restaurants in Cappadocia, Ziggy, is also in Urgup. The restaurant has a very cozy dining area, the staff is very attentive and takes their job seriously, and the food is good and reasonably priced.

Goreme: a mecca for backpackers in Cappadocia

Goreme is another favorite of visitors and a mecca for backpacker tourists. It is much smaller than Urgup and visually much better integrated with the landscape features defining the region. Many hotels and restaurants occupy carved stones. The town is home to many hostels, bars, and eateries for every budget. 

Cappadocia Sunrise
Cappadocia – Turkey

My first real introduction to Goreme was when I was 19. I stayed in the town for about a week with American friends and had a glimpse of what backpacker traveler life was all about. We mostly hung out with young Australians. This was my first introduction to the concept of “gap year,” a year during which Australians, often right after high school, take a year off to explore the world and discover themselves. They sure enjoyed their time in Cappadocia and Turkey in general. It is always a pleasure to experience your own country through the eyes of foreign friends, offering perspectives that a native can easily miss.

Goreme became unpleasantly developed over the years and lost part of its small-town charm. However, it is still a place very much worth a visit thanks to the Goreme Open Air Museum (an area covered by monasteries and churches carved into rock—more about that in my next post). Zelve, although not located in Goreme, is another wonderful open-air museum where the landscape is even more interesting than in Goreme.

My favorite Cappadocia town: Uchisar

Uchisar is about a five-minute ride from Goreme, and thanks to its position on top of a hill, it offers amazing views of the entire region. When I first visited Uchisar, it reminded me of the opening scene of the movie “Chocolat,” where Juliette Binoche climbs through the narrow alleys of the small French town where she intends to move to with her daughter. Uchisar is also full of narrow alleys and many steep climbs. This is not the only common part between the town in the movie and Uchisar, as the latter is also home to numerous establishments originally opened by French people and definitely carries that small French provincial town aura.

I stayed in Uchisar for around two weeks during my last visit to Cappadocia. I cannot recommend Art Residence Cappadocia enough for those planning a relatively long stay in Cappadocia. The spacious home is very tastefully decorated by its friendly owner and has the best views of the valleys around. I would wake up at 5 a.m. every morning to watch the hot air balloons filling the sky from the spacious terrace of the Art Residence Cappadocia. 

There are so many other things about Cappadocia worth writing about. So please take this as my introduction post about this region that I have been to many times, as there will be many more posts devoted to my possibly favorite place on earth. While I now live in Japan, I hope to visit Cappadocia as often as I once did whenever I get a chance to travel home.