It was easy to have high expectations for Cappadocia after seeing so many envy-inspiring photos of gracefully soaring hot air balloons and their magical desert surroundings on social media. It could have been easy for reality to fall short of its carefully choreographed and photoshopped counterpart, and yet somehow Cappadocia managed to surpass even the most beautifully edited versions of itself.
Arriving in Cappadocia from Istanbul was like stepping straight into a fantasy, as we passed through busy towns and emerged in a desert scattered with towering rocks in all kinds of shapes and sizes. The town of Göreme, where we stayed, appears like an oasis among the desert’s hills and valleys, with towering rock pinnacles, honeycomb-like formations scattered with openings and buildings arranged in and around, creating an almost otherworldly affect.
These unique surroundings are the perfect home for the iconic hot air balloons that soar over Cappadocia each morning, with travellers flocking to the area to take part in this once in a lifetime experience.
Göreme really is a place that comes to life at 5am. While the streets are heavy with silence and most people are still asleep, the daily hot air balloon parade welcomes the new day and gives visitors a unique perspective on this already-extraordinary place.
Our own hot air balloon ride was one of the most peaceful and yet thrilling experiences, as we drifted close enough to touch some of the taller rocks that we passed. We dipped into valleys and rose with the surrounding rocks, which glowed orange as the sun slowly rose on the town.
Now, I’m definitely not a morning person; in fact waking up for sunrise is my own idea of torture and something I’m proud to have largely avoided most mornings in my life. And yet while we were in Cappadocia, I was excited to roll out of bed, throw on some clothes and go out hunting for the first glimpses of the colourful balloons as they slowly inflated.
Each morning, we ran through the pre-dawn to find the perfect lookout spot that would give us just the right vantage point as the balloons drifted across the sky. In fact, even on the morning when the balloons were cancelled, we still enjoyed an amazing sunrise, watching as the town slowly revealed itself before us.
And while the mornings were the definite highlight of our time in Cappadocia, there was plenty to fill the rest of the days.
The area radiates its long history, from ancient times when people carved out the rocks thousands of years ago and created entire cities within the rocks or even underground. It’s amazing to see the rock buildings that have been modernised within Göreme and even cooler to walk amongst old towns in the desert outskirts. We hiked from the town to the Open Air Museum to check out churches, kitchens and houses that have been untouched for centuries, decorated with frescoes and paintings that remain today. Equally as intriguing (and more budget-friendly), there are plenty of these unique formations scattered around Cappadocia, almost waiting for you to discover.
Cappadocia is definitely a place for exploring, with so many trails that take you through valleys and into neighbouring towns. Each seems to have its own distinct quality, from Pigeon Valley, named for the birds’ ‘houses’ carved into the rocks to Rose and Red Valleys, named for the colours of the sedimentary rocks in the area. Finally, and probably the most iconic is Love Valley which takes its cheeky name from the uniquely shaped rocks that are scattered throughout.
It was hard to leave Cappadocia after three amazing days of exploring and experiencing the amazing hot air balloons each morning. But it was time to move on to new sights and places to discover, and most importantly, time for a sleep in…