After recent events, I realize that this may not be the best time to travel to Turkey, but I believe that the Turkish people will someday find a way to ensure safety in their country. I’m extremely grateful that we were able to travel to Turkey and despite receiving warnings by the U.S. Department of State while we were there, we felt completely safe during our visit. There was a police presence at any crowded location and security at the entrance of every major site. We found the Turkish people to be warm, friendly, and welcoming. The people we encountered were absolutely thrilled and thankful to have visitors to their country as tourism has been dropping in recent years. I think we only met one other U.S. citizen during our time in Turkey. Most tourists were European, although we did encounter some Canadians. The bottom line is that your safety and comfort are a personal decision, so travel wherever you feel safe.
Our introduction to Turkey was in Cappadocia, a region in Central Anatolia. We flew into the Kayseri airport in the morning and were picked up by Helios Transfers, which had been arranged by the hotel for a small fee. The van was new and comfortable and the driver even provided us with bottled water. I strongly suggest booking your transfers in advance. It was about an hour from the Kayseri airport to Goreme, the town where we stayed. The transfer was very reasonably priced at 10 euros each and seemed to be the best option available. The public shuttle was 10 euros each but could take up to 2 hours as it dropped off guests at other hotels in different towns. The taxi was about 220 TL/100 euros.
We stayed for 2 nights in the beautiful Kelebek Special Cave Hotel, which was an incredible experience that I highly recommend! Some of our favorite amenities were the large breakfast buffet filled with local specialties and fruits, the terrace where you could order tea or alcoholic beverages and small food items from the bar, the hamam (spa), and of course, the fact that our room was built into a cave!
The staff at Kelebek was also fantastic! Upon our arrival, the front desk staff gave us maps and information about Goreme and helped us plan our time there. They also offered to book a tour or spa service for us. We had already set up a balloon ride with Royal Balloon (which was amazing, more on that later!), but asked for a recommendation on an ATV tour and booked a peel and soap massage in the hamam.
After settling into our luxurious cave room, we ventured over to the Seten Restaurant for lunch. Seten is also owned by the owners of the Kelebek Cave Hotel and it is a short walk from the hotel. The food is outstanding and is made fresh daily in the traditional Anatolian way, much of it over an open fire in the courtyard. The restaurant is stunning and you can’t go wrong whether you eat inside or outside. The prices are very reasonable. We had a multi-course meal with wine for around $40. And the complimentary bread dip, a delicious combination of peanuts and pumpkin, sesame, and apricot seeds, was excellent! If we had more time, I would have definitely signed up for the all-day cooking class, where you will purchase ingredients at the local market and create a full meal for only 50 euros each. What to order: bulghurballs, stuffed artichoke hearts, lamb skewers, stuffed squash flowers, figs stuffed with walnuts, apricots stuffed with pistachio, local wine.
We walked off our delicious lunch with a 25 minute walk to the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Tokali Church. The museum features the region’s best collection of painted cave churches which were built in Byzantine times by Christian monks. Although the “fairy chimneys” (the name for the unique, cone-shaped caves formed from volcanic stone) were inhabited since the Hittite times, they are most well-known for the cave churches. It was fascinating to see how this ancient group of monks lived together and you could even see kitchen tables and benches carved from stone. The Tokali Church is about 50 meters away from the entrance to the Open Air Museum and is a stunning structure made up of 4 main chambers with religious frescoes. Cost: 25tl (about $8) for the Open Air Museum and Tokali Church, additional 12TL ($12) for the Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise), additional cost for audio tour.
On the way back, we hiked around Rose Valley for a bit, admiring the unusual geological formations and taking photos. This area looks like another planet and was created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Cappadocians made their homes in the fairy chimneys for years because the rock formed from ash, lava, and basalt provides a natural cooling system in summer and heating system in winter. Cappadocians also recognized the possibility of making wine using the volcanic soil and cave cellars and the region is will known for its wine industry.
Since we had such a large lunch and were going to bed early to wake up for our hot air balloon ride, we had a light dinner at the hotel bar. We ordered chicken salad and pita with hummus to enjoy with local beer while watching the sunset over the fairy chimneys. Note: For the best sunset view, you’ll probably want to visit Sunset Point. It’s a steep walk uphill or you can take a taxi. We had a nice view of the town and sky from the hotel, but the actual sun was blocked by the building.
Before retiring for the evening, we went to the hamam for our traditional Turkish peel and soap massages. It was one of the most relaxing experiences I have ever had. Alex and I were first instructed to change into pestemals (Turkish towels, which by the way, are not made for tall people) and sit in the sauna for ten minutes. There, we were greeted by our masseuses who brought us into the sicaklik, or hot room. Our masseuses poured bowls of hot water all over our bodies and then scrubbed and exfoliated our skin from head to toe. Next, the masseuses sprayed soapy bubbles all over us. I could not stop giggling during this part. The sound of the bubbles was hilarious to me and every time I cracked an eye open, I saw a mountain of bubbles covering Alex and me! Once we were sufficiently covered in bubbles, the masseuses gave a full body massage before rinsing us off with another round of hot and then cool water. The treatment ended in the sogukluk, or cool room, where we
fell asleep rested until we dried off. The traditional treatment was so relaxing and our skin felt soft and smooth afterwards. You cannot go to Turkey without experiencing this treatment and it is much more affordable in Cappadocia than anywhere I looked in Istanbul!
After a deep sleep thanks to our peel and soap massage, we woke up at 4:30 am for our hot air balloon ride with Royal Balloon. I had heard of Royal Balloon through online research, mostly on TripAdvisor and other travel blogs, and had only read great things. Having never been on a hot air balloon ride, my primary concern was safety, especially being in another country. Royal Balloon could not have been more professional, and in fact, our balloon was actually piloted by the head pilot, Suat, who has piloted thousands of rides. He even piloted Martha Stewart when she visited the region! In the end, I decided that if Royal Balloon was good enough for Martha, it was good enough for me, and that turned out to be correct!
After being picked up from our hotel, we were brought to the Royal Balloon headquarters, where a full hot and cold breakfast was laid out for us to enjoy with our fellow balloon riders. We were given goodie bags with all kinds of keepsakes and were divided into vans to be taken to our balloons. We had booked the longer Royal King Flight which holds a maximum of ten passengers. I highly recommend springing for the longer flight with fewer people because we had more space in the basket and were in the air for a longer time. Suat was a fantastic tour guide and pilot, seamlessly providing us with information and stories about the area while piloting us safely above the fairy chimneys. Before long, we were landing, where we were greeted with a champagne toast, chocolate covered strawberries, and professional photos available for purchase for a nominal fee. The entire operation was so professional and personalized from beginning to end. If you go to Cappadocia (which you should) and take a balloon ride (which you will), book with Royal Balloons. They are absolutely the best! Cost: 240 euros per person for Royal King Flight with discounts available depending on payment type.
After being dropped off back at our hotel, we had a second breakfast on the hotel terrace. The breakfast at Kelebek was fresh and light, but also included sweet treats like pastries stuffed with banana, dried fruit, cookies, and honeycomb. After enjoying the views and talking to some new friends from New Zealand about our upcoming time in Istanbul, we took a nap to refresh ourselves for the day.
When we woke up, we walked to town to take a tour on ATVs with Hitchhiker Rentals, upon the recommendation of our hotel. While our experience wasn’t terrible, it certainly was not what I expected and I wouldn’t recommend the company. We had signed up for our tour the day before with a gentleman that spoke perfect English, so imagine our surprise when we arrived for the tour and a different gentleman who spoke absolutely no English walked up and told us he was the tour guide. All of a sudden, our “tour” was more of a follow-the-leader situation without any narration. We had no idea which valleys we were in at any time except for Love Valley, which was obvious from pictures we had seen before the trip. While the surroundings were obviously still amazing, it wasn’t what I thought we had signed up for and I was disappointed to not be given any information about the area. Furthermore, our “guide” seemed to be more interested in finding the most challenging terrain than pointing out anything around us or telling us where we were. Also, the quality of the ATV was questionable. Our gas gauge was broken and there were no containers for your things so our water bottle got extremely hot sitting on top of the engine and then actually broke from all of the jostling around. They certainly were not the fancy ATVs we rented in Santorini. Maybe this will be fun for you if you’re really into riding ATVs, but if not, I would consider another company and ask what the tour entails first.
After cleaning off the dust from the ATV ride at Kelebek (they were kind enough to give us a late checkout so that we could use the showers), we had lunch at Dibek Pottery Kebap upon the recommendation of Kelebek hotel staff. We had an authentic meal prepared by locals who have been living and cooking in the 475 year old home for generations. The building was restored and redecorated in 2004 and is a beautiful setting filled with antique clothing and rugs as decor. The dibek, or clay pot kepab, is a traditional container used for slow-cooking meat, tomatoes, herbs, and spices that is cracked open for serving. The meal is served with various accouterments like pickled vegetables, cucumber and tomato salad, mint yogurt dip, and spices and is served on a low table while you stretch out on the floor, making for an authentic and memorable meal! The staff was so kind and showed us how to eat everything we ordered in the traditional way.
Our final activity in Goreme was a carpet purchase. In hindsight, we probably should have done a bit more research in advance to know exactly what we were looking for and how much we should pay, but the important thing is that we ended up with a beautiful carpet that will have a special place in our home forever. It was quite the quintessential carpet-buying experience with the salesmen offering us tea and laying out all of the carpets with flourishes around us on the floor. We did make sure to buy a carpet that was handmade locally and from there, we basically just picked the size we wanted and colors we liked. They packed it up in a little carry-on bag so it was very easy to travel with on the trip home. And if you’re in the market for a carpet, I recommend buying it in Cappadocia rather than in Istanbul. We noticed that the starting prices were significantly higher in the bigger city.
Our time in Goreme, Cappadocia was unforgettable and our only regret was not spending more time there. If we had another day or two, I would have definitely wanted to visit the underground cities near Goreme like Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, take a cooking class with Seten, visit Sunset Point, and have another massage in the hamam. I hope that you are able to visit this unique part of the world and experience the Anatolian cuisine and hospitality for yourself one day!
As always, thanks for reading! Next up on the blog is our time in the beautiful city of Istanbul.
Seten Restaurant, Aydınlı Sok. Sultan Cave Suites No:40, Nevşehir
Dibek Pottery Kebap, Hakki Pasa Meydani 1, Goreme Kasabasi
Kelebek Special Cave Hotel, Aydinli Mah., Yavuz Sok. No:1, Göreme/Nevşehir
Goreme Open Air Museum, Muze Yolu, Goreme
Royal Balloon, Avcilar Mahallesi, Dutlu Sokak No:9