I hesitate to finish this sentence, but here goes– Cappadocia is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. At least it seemed that way after weeks of the smoke- and traffic-filled streets of Istanbul. Did you ever see the video of a herd of cows being let out to pasture for the first time after a winter spent indoors? They practically somersault onto the grass, probably squirting milk into the air from sheer excitement. Minus any leakage, that was how I felt when I arrived in Cappadocia. I got to climb mountains, poke around in cave dwellings and early Christian churches carved into rock, follow paths through cavernous valleys, wander onto private property, with the occasional vineyard completely accidentally and eat grapes that don’t belong to me, also completely accidentally. At night I sat at a restaurant overlooking it all and drank a glass of wine, probably made from an earlier reincarnation of the grapes I had been filling my mouth with all day.
The region is made up of a network of valleys that got their distinctive look thanks to three terribly active volcanoes, which expelled lava, ash and all kinds of sediment across hundreds of miles. After millions of years of wind and water erosion, what’s left is a landscape of meringue-shaped ranges, ripples of soft rock that look like confectioner’s sugar, freestanding pillars, cones and chimneys that served as homes as recently as the 20th century.
The town of Göreme is at the center of Cappadocia’s most sought after sites and hiking trails. What used to be a small village is now home to more than 100 hotels and seemingly as many tour companies, souvenir shops and cafés. I chose my own perch well—high above the town center, Mithra Cave Hotel leans into the side of a cliff, shying away from the calls to buy, eat and drink below.
It’s quiet up here, with spectacular sunrises and several terraces from which to watch them, curled up in a rocking chair with a coffee, though the sun is not really why anyone’s getting up at dawn. Every morning dozens of hot air balloons take over the sky and I think it’s fair to say that if you find yourself in Göreme at six in the morning you are either one of the hundreds of people suspended above the town or like me, one of the six people who chose to stay on the ground in their pajamas.
From up here, the city of Uçhisar, with the two crumbling castles at its highest point, looks like an anthill and autumnal trees weave a fiery path through the valley below.
The infamous Love Valley! Because no matter your age, education level, or highbrow-ness, no one can resist looking at giant, towering rock penises.
The Rose Valley is blushing, perhaps due to its proximity to the Love Valley. See above.
As far back as the 4th century, Christian churches were carved into the rocks. The altars, pillars, frescoes and even graves that made up these spiritual burrows are still here. There is no greater joy than to be able to run around climbing, exploring and touching all of the above. Easiest way to shave thirty years of that old soul of yours.
This mountain was gutted into a maze of stairs, rooms and tunnels that can lead to literal dead ends if you’re not careful.
There is a quality to Cappadocia that has left me unsuccessful in finding the right word for it. The valleys seem timeless, having withstood millions of years of nature’s abuse, and surrounded by them I feel timeless too. Maybe that stoic solitude is what’s left when everything else is gone? Maybe that is why it leaves me speechless, because it’s what remains when even language disappears.