Göreme, in the Nevşehir Province of Central Anatolia, Turkey, is a small, cave-dwelling town with a unique landscape dotted with fairy chimneys and ancient rock formations. Whether you are soaring above the dusty brown foothills, in a multi-colored hot air balloon, sipping wine while perched on a hilltop, watching the mustard yellow sun sink below the horizon or riding Angelina Jolie-style on a ATV, Göreme is paradise for budget travelers, adventure junkies and zen seekers. With its mix of rugged terrain and chilled out vibe, you are bound to find a heart-pumping activity–or is hanging out in a cave hostel and drinking local wine more your style? Below are a few fun experiences you could have if you decide to make a stop in this beguiling borough.
Hot Air Balloon-Why would you wake up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am while on vacation? It might be for the chance to see terrain littered with jutting, and yes, somewhat phallic-looking rock formations that volcanoes, wind and rain have created over a millennium. Your red, blue and green striped balloon slowly inflates as the heat and flame from the burner slowly fills it. As it billows and starts to rise off the ground, you are instructed to hop in the basket*. You are packed tight with about 15 other travelers and need to do some Houdini moves to get your camera set for the perfect shot. A few hundred feet off the ground your camera is poised to take as many pictures as you can. You spy a gray fox slinking through the crevasses and pathways–you take ten pictures of him while your neighbor’s elbow is in your ear and someone’s knee is on your bum. Red poppies dot the rocky mountainside, there’s another seven pictures. Balloons everywhere–click, click, click; but the camera cannot record the ethereal beauty of Cappadocia. Everyone feels the need to whisper so not to disturb the tranquility of the moment–there is a collective reverence for the landscape and history. You’ve found your heaven.
*a few tips–for the ladies, I would recommend not wearing a skirt, the climb into the basket is not very graceful and if you don’t want strangers to see your underwear, opt for pants. Also the landing can be a bit rough, nothing too drastic but the basket may drag a bit before coming to a complete stop. But after you recover from the landing, there is a celebratory sparkling cider toast and keepsake ‘Certificate of Flight’ to commemorate your experience.
Note: The company I used was Sultan Balloons but there are dozens of other companies to choose from. Keep in mind that due to weather, rides can be cancelled at any time, even the morning of the ride, so be prepared. There are many package deals out there but I opted to plan it myself–flight, hostel and balloon ride separately. I probably paid a bit more but I wanted the freedom to stay at the hostel of my choosing and not have a set agenda.
ATV ride–Your ill-fitting helmet seems useless as it wobbles to one side and your teeth chatter as you bounce and jostle on your four-wheeled monster. You might feel like a bad ass as you blaze through jagged lands and rocky paths. You whiz through canyons and ravines with names like Love Valley, Fairy Valley, Pigeon Valley and Rose Valley. You can’t keep the goofy grin off your face as the 15-year-old guide looks back to make sure you haven’t gone rogue or run over anyone. Varying shades of brown, green and gray are all around you; the rock formations are so other worldly that all you can say is ‘wow’. The guide stops to give everyone a break. You shake off the dust, get your bearings, walk around, take a drink and admire your surroundings. You see a large, flat rock and walk through the knee length shrubbery to get to it. You sit, breath deep, close your eyes and take a meditative moment to let Göreme seep into your soul. After a few minutes you open your eyes, hop back on your ATV, haul ass and do a fist pump as you head to the next valley–it seems only appropriate.
Note: Helmets are provided but they have no face shields, so don’t forget your sunglasses or you will get a face full of dust.
Wine and Sunset Tour–When one thinks of Turkey, wine usually doesn’t come to mind, but in Göreme, vines are everywhere. You float over them in a hot air balloon, ride through them on an ATV or take a Wine and Sunset Tour and have a knowledgeable guide take you through the vineyards so you can touch the vines and taste the grapes. The terroir is rocky beneath your sandals as the guide tells you the 4,000 year history Turkey has with wine. Wine was used as an offering to the gods and was as common in the daily diet as fish, olive oil and bread.
These vines are different from the manicured rows of the top growing vineyards of the United States or France, but they have a wild character all their own.
Then you may be whisked to one of the local tasting rooms for a sampling–Turasan is one of the most popular wineries in the area, where you will taste about 5 different wines in the no-frills and somewhat sterile tasting room. After the tasting, you will be shuttled to a mountain top, where you can sip wine and ponder your next adventure as the sun sets.
In the town of Göreme there is a place called the Red Red Wine House, where they serve local wines. If you want to get more of a taste of Turkey, settle in, order a few glasses and an apple-mint water pipe and keep the wine theme going.
Note: The tour I took was through Urban Adventures and my engaging guide made the tour very personal and fun. From the informative walk through the vineyard, to the winery tasting and a sunset finale, it was a great evening of wine history and epic views. If you have the time and interest, I would highly recommend this tour. It’s great for a wine enthusiast but also a good option if you want to do something a bit more low key.
Cave hostels/hotels–You might fall in love with Göreme and possibly soup (more on the soup in a separate post) if you book a bunk at the the Stay at Peace Cave Hostel. Yes, these are hostels and hotels that were cave dwellings long ago, where the Christians hid from persecution. They were then converted into homes and now, unique accommodations for visitors. They range from bare-bone hostels to 5-star hotels with air conditioning, sauna and massage services. The town of nearly 2,000 residence is about an hour shuttle ride from the Kayasri airport. After the frenzied pace of Istanbul you feel your shoulders relax as you let the tranquil and relaxing setting of this tiny town wash over you. As you settled into the Omurca Art Cafe you notice there is a bearded local on the balcony across from you who is lightly tapping a hang drum; the harmonic sounds swirl and whirl around you, relaxing you even more. The barefoot chef talks to you about the day’s soup and he pours you a glass of his homemade wine. With its mountains of pillows and sultan-ish style, the hostel and cafe is a nice respite between excursions.
Note: When I booked this trip, I had no idea there would be a swimming pool option. You can learn from my mistakes. Book a hotel or hostel with a pool so you can “de-dust” yourself with a refreshing dip.
If you are planning a trip to Turkey, take a detour to the Cappadocia region. You can do a few of the above activities but there are many other options. You could horseback ride, take a guided tour through the caves, see the whirling dervishes or rent a car and drive through the other regions. I only saw Göreme but the surrounding cities of Urgup, Uchisar, Ortahisar, Cavusin and Avanos are also options. Happy travels and thank you, Göreme, for showing me a lovely time!!