Beyond the balloons: the hidden gems of Cappadocia

Few sights on the planet can rival that of the brightly colored hot air balloons – literally hundreds of them – collectively soaring above the surreal and dramatic landscapes of Cappadocia at sunrise. It’s a must on any bucket list. And far from being overrated. And with the country’s current currency crisis only intensifying, now is the time to visit Turkey.

Incidentally, the average tourist will leave Cappadocia soon after stepping out of the wicker basket, never taking an extra day or two to indulge in a slow journey – but therein lies the problem. Here, we will remedy that by going beyond the clichés of this fascinating region of Turkey.

Sunset over Ortahisar village and fortress in Cappadocia.

Salvator Barki via Getty

A hairy affair

Let’s start with the basics – Cappadocia isn’t actually a city, contrary to popular belief. It is a historical region located in Central Anatolia and includes five provinces: Aksaray, Nevşehir, Niğde, Kayseri and Kırşehir. You will probably be staying in Göreme, a town of Nevşehir and the hub of all tourism, but a day trip to nearby Avanos is highly recommended. Steeped in the art of pottery, it is located on the aptly named Red River, where the red clay deposits along its banks have been used to make household products since the Hittite period.

Today, that translates to a laid-back town that’s home to pottery demonstrations, pottery workshops, and a pottery shop that has earned infamy for what resides in its basement: a hair museum in its own right. . Not for the faint-hearted, the Hair Museum of Avanos is located in Chez Galip and was founded by ceramic artist Galip Körükçü virtually by accident. A friend of hers cut off a lock of her hair as a keepsake as she was about to leave Avanos – it was 1979. Other shop visitors followed suit, with the hair of around five million of women from all over the world. world now adorning every last inch of this subterranean space, ceilings included. Photography is not permitted as each “exhibition” bears a corresponding address and a handwritten note, echoing the sons who started this strange tradition. As for Galip’s stance on collecting men’s hair? No thanks.

A woman’s touch

Beyond the tourist trail is Kadıneli, a stylish little restaurant run by a women’s cooperative and rooted in home-style cooking. Located in the city of Uçhisar, its name translates to “woman’s hand”, and there are many behind the scenes. All employees, from cooks and dishwashers to hostesses and waitresses, are women. Brave women. This NGO may have been created with the aim of creating job opportunities for the fairer sex, but Kadıneli actually suffered a backlash when it opened in 2015 – traditional gender roles are alive and well in Anatolia, so the idea of ​​husbands watching children while wives go off to work was virtually unheard of.

Admittedly, the menu is limited, but it is a place where quality outweighs quantity. You’ll dine on Turkish staples like gözleme (flatbreads stuffed with cheese or potato), yaprak sarma (stuffed grape leaves), and menemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers). The homemade manti, on the other hand, is a must. This Turkish version of dumplings features ground lamb or beef carefully folded into small pieces of dough which are then boiled and topped with garlic yogurt. Stocking up on gifts to take home? Pair a meal at this lesser-known gem with a stop at the on-site shop that sells seasonal preserves and knitted toys before burning the calories at Uçhisar Castle, Cappadocia’s highest point.

Unique memories

Speaking of purchases you won’t regret, the streets of Cappadocia are filled with kitsch-riddled souvenir shops – think magnets, miniature hot air balloons and fairy chimney ornaments. Granted, they’re cheap and easier to pack than carpets and ceramics, but resist the urge to impulse buy. Your money can be better spent at Melih’s Gourds (intricately carved lamps made from dried gourds), Sultan’s Charm (organic soaps and luxury hammam products), Yastik’s (unique cushions accented with cultural references) and Cappadocia Bazaar (freshly made lokum in a multitude of flavors) – all of which are located in Göreme.

For a souvenir that screams Cappadocia, but with a backstory that is still debated, opt for a handmade doll from the village of Soğanlı. Legend has it that the original Soğanlı doll was made decades ago, when a woman was mourning the death of her child and made a kind of rag doll in search of respite. Others say that these dolls have been made by local women for their children for several centuries now. Whichever version is true, these little trinkets adorned with traditional clothing are in such demand that entire families in the village can live on them. Go ahead and help the local economy with this one – even if you haven’t determined the lucky recipient yet.

Take this way

Between its otherworldly rock formations, abandoned cave dwellings and trails of varying difficulty, Cappadocia is an ideal destination for hiking enthusiasts. Red Valley is popular for its crimson hue and sunsets, while Pigeon Valley conveniently connects the towns of Göreme and Uçhisar. None, however, are as unique as Moonlight Cappadocia.

Jointly organized by Uzunetap and Argos Culture and Arts, this three-hour guided hike through Rose Valley is lit by – you guessed it – moonlight and takes place monthly on the night of the full moon between April and October. . Along the way, you’ll pause to grab some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, crawl into the Crusader Church to admire the detailed ceiling fresco, and even watch a candlelit musical performance in an ancient cave church with slender columns. Above all, the night perspective of all these fairy chimneys is simply magical.

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