Cappadocia: hiking and ballooning in the Valley of Love and beyond / by Jiri Duzar

Cappadocia is a region in central Anatolia in the very heart of Turkey that does not need a lengthy introduction. It is world-known for its geographically unique landscape, and after Istanbul and the Turkish Riviera along the Mediterranean Sea, it is probably the next most desirable and sought-after destination in the country. Spring of 2018 marked my third visit in the last 10 years, and when you browse through my photographs, you will understand what kept me coming back.

This time I didn’t have to hitchhike to get here like during my first two visits in 2010 when I was a poor student at Anadolu University in Eskişehir and hardcore budget traveler. Instead, my partner Zuzi and I took a short flight from Istanbul (after an equally long drive to the airport on the Asian side of Bosphorus filled with fear that we will miss our plane) where we spent a couple of days before this trip while searching for my Turkish delight. We arrived in Kayseri, rented a car and drove to the town of Göreme, which became our home base for our outdoor adventures.

What awaited us there can be found in the photo gallery below. We went on a day hike to the village of Uçhisar, its natural rock castle and through the Valley of Love, which is aptly named after phallic-shaped rock formations that can be found all over the place. We took in a breathtaking sunset in the Red Valley. The area lived up to its name as everything around was colored in red and orange hues. One day we also drove further off to visit the Ihlara Valley and went on a beautiful loop-trail hike (only the weather wasn’t ideal). Every day we indulged in delicious Turkish food that was popping up on every our step, we also shopped for souvenirs in Avanos, visited its weekly bazaar (market with fresh veggies among other things) and had the best Turkish coffee of the whole trip in the town of Ürgüp, which we thought would be a great home base for a possible future visit. Göreme has become overly touristy (rightfully so), and I don’t even want to imagine what it looks like during the summer.

The most memorable highlight was something I couldn’t afford during my student years. But after debating it at length, eventually, we decided to spare nearly $200 per person, replaced our traveler hats with tourist ones and partook in the local phenomenon of hot-air balloon sunrise rides. Was it really that touristy? You bet your ass it was. But was it worth it? Absolutely yes! Well, at least for that one time in our lives.