If you search online the best time to visit Cappadocia, you will surely be warned to avoid winter. However visiting Cappadocia in Winter was the best decision, and I am sure that if we hadn’t seen the landscape covered in snow, we wouldn’t have loved it this much!
This was not our first trip to Turkey. We had already visited Istanbul in the past during our stopovers to other destinations and we kept on saying that one day we will dedicate an entire trip to this country. So here I am sharing with you what I have learned from our 11 day trip exploring Turkey.
To all of you who gazed at me with strange expressions or asked why I was visiting Turkey, here are our reasons:
- We had Turkish Airlines points to buy the tickets to Istanbul and also for internal flights. However, even if you don’t have points, internal flights are extremely cheap costing around Eur 30 per way including luggage with Turkish Airlines.
- Excellent value for money! Apart from flights, also accommodation, food and activities are all very worth it and the standard is very high. By no means, paying lower implies compromising on quality as we ate in restaurants, stayed in hotels and did activities like hot air balloon in Cappadocia.
- Even though the opposite is imagined and depicted by media, Turkey is a very safe country especially if you stick to touristic areas. We did not venture near the Syrian border, where the area is considered unsafe obviously, but the country is huge. There were several controls and there was never a second during which we felt threatened or unsafe.
- Turkish people are very helpful and always go out of their way to help us when we ask. We were travelling with our one-year old daughter and they were so friendly with her, giving her toys and entertaining her, making sure that we were comfortable wherever we were.
- There is so much to see and do in Turkey and each time we visit, the feeling is that we just scratched the surface.
Our original plan was to go to Eastern Turkey in the mountains close to the Georgian border; however after making lots of research I found out that it is not ideal to go in winter as there are floods and the landscape is not as spectacular as in Summer. So we decided to leave that area for the next trip and focus on the more touristic areas. I was unsure whether to include Cappadocia region in our itinerary since we usually try to avoid the overly touristic areas. However I am glad we did; as the landscapes here were very surreal and the blanket of snow that covered the rock formations made everything even more magical. In Winter the area is less crowded, so most of the places we visited were deserted.
The closest airports are Nevşehir or Kayseri. These are the two main airports in the region and are served by several airlines such as Turkish Airlines and Pegasus. If you are not renting a car, you can get a taxi or or share a van that will get you to your accommodation in around 45 mins from Nevşehir and 1hr from Kayseri.
Where to stay:
Göreme is the most popular village to stay in. There are plenty of hotels (stone or cave hotels) but also budget hostels, places to eat and other shops. However there are other smaller and less touristic villages where you can stay like Cavusin, Uçhisar, Ortahisar or Ürgüp. A small tip: choose an accommodation which has a nice terrace or roof from where you can view the hot air balloons at sunrise! I highly recommend the accommodation we stayed at – Milat Cave Hotel. Excellent value for money (price was around Eur 50 per night), comfortable rooms, delicious breakfast and several terraces with views over Göreme. Photos to the right can give you a taste of what you can expect from this accommodation. Our daughter just fell in love with the view from our window 🙂 I would consider this a mid-range type of accommodation, with all the basic amenities, comfortable rooms (equipped with baby cots if you wish to), very helpful staff, delicious breakfast but no extra frills.
We opted to rent a car, given that we were travelling with our 1yr old. However this is not the usual method of transport used by most travellers. You can ask your hotel and they can organise transfers for you to and from the airport costing Eur 10 per person per way to both airports. Then there are tours you can join to visit the main attractions; mainly renowned as the ‘Red Tour’ visiting the main attractions to the North of Goreme and the ‘Green Tour’ visiting the South of Goreme. Tours will cost around Eur 45 per person and include lunch. It is a good price, however once again car rental costed us Eur 90 for two days, so it was still cheaper.
Top places to visit in Cappadocia
Hot Air Balloon Experience
This is most probably the#1 reason you have decided to visit Cappadocia and rightly so. This is an activity you cannot miss if you are visiting the region; hovering over the numerous valleys with curious formations is an incredible experience. It is also very affordable and although there are different prices; you want to pay for the best experience you can have. I have done this experience with Royal Balloons and I can only say positive things about them. They are highly organised and for the price of Eur 170 per person, I had the best service I could wish for. I highly recommend booking in advance as even though it was not peak season, bookings were full. Moreover it is ideal to have more than one option to do your hot air balloon. The activity is cancelled if it is raining, snowing or windy and you want to have an alternative for the next morning if this happens. If you are travelling with kids, note that this activity is not allowed for kids under 7 years as they need to be able to see from the basket.
If you are staying here, make sure to dedicate a couple of hours to visit its centre. It’s the largest village in the area and conveniently located at the centre of the Goreme Historical Park. In the centre there are numerous places where you can eat, cafes but also souvenir shops and the famous Dowry Carpet Shop. Beware that some of these shops won’t allow you to take photos for free! Apart from the shops in the centre, the Goreme open air museum is also worth visit.
This valley which is located North of Goreme, owes its name to the curious shape of the pillars that have formed here. They resemble men’s sexual organs so that is why it is known as love valley. The viewpoint over this valley is very well located and if you don’t have the time to hike along the valley, you can still get a good view of the valley.
This village is located halfway between Goreme and Avanos and is one of the most picturesque. It is very small and the main attraction is the abandoned Greek village located right on the side of the hill. To be honest it is still abandoned and making your way up the village and the church is not very safe (especially if there is slippery ice – make sure to have a good pair of shoes with grip). Even though I had a good snow boots, I still was afraid to go into the church as you need to cross a wooden bridge which did not seem very safe. However climbing the stairs and walking along the streets of the village was still very enjoyable, as once again we were the only tourists visiting the place.
Paşabağı (Monk’s Valley & Fairy Chimneys)
This is another valley worth visiting with different rock formations. Its names originates from the fact that this place was used by monks who used the rock formations as their refuge. In fact, during the 4th century, Cappadocia was home to numerous monks and many of their excavated homes can be found in this valley.
Zelve Open Air Museum
There are several open air museums in the area and Zelve is one of them. It is located north of Goreme, close to Avanos. Unfortunately due to erosion, these formation are being slowly destroyed and I don’t think they will be visitable for long.
Avanos is mainly known for its pottery, however this town is not just that. There are delicious places where you can eat genuine local food, typical architecture and also a very picturesque river with ducks crossing the centre of the town. Obviously, make sure to wander around its historical centre to admire the artisans creating pottery works of art. Moroever every Friday there is a market where you can visit the market and mingle with locals selling their products.
This is another village, this time located south of Goreme. Unlike other villages mentioned previously, Uçhisar is located on top of a hill so you get nice distant views over the valleys surrounding the region. In fact it is situated on the highest point between Nevsehir and Goreme. The main attraction is Uçhisar castle, which is carved in the rock.
This attraction is quite different from the previously mentioned. It is located quite far from Goreme and you need to drive for around 1h 30 south west of Goreme. The drive was absolutely spectacular, with plains covered in snow as we met foxes along our way. Ihlara valley is a gorge with a river, ideal for nature lovers who wish to enjoy nature and walk along the river.
Along the Ihlara valley, there is a beautiful village called Belisirma. This is also a Greek village with several abandoned stone houses. Belisirma is a good place to stop for lunch as there are several over water restaurants. There are a lot of them all over Turkey and they are just incredible! You sit on wooden platforms located just an inch over the river and the atmosphere is very relaxing.
Selima Cave Monastery
Selime, which is also located close to Ihlara valley and Belisirma, is the largest and most impressive rock-cut monastery in the area. You can opt to do a one-way hike starting from Ihlara, crossing the village of Belisirma and end your hike in Selime. This is a good option if you have a personal driver taking you around, however we had our car and we prefered to visit all the places by car. It was snowing for most of the time and the paths were quite slippery. I would suggest the hiking option if you visit during the other seasons.
This is another village close to Goreme that is worth including in your itinerary. It is beautifully located on the side of a hill, that is dominated by a castle. On clear days your views will be stretched until Mount Erciyes (the closest ski resort just outside Kayseri).
In Cappadocia the valleys with rock formations are endless; Love Valley, Monk’s Valley, Devrent Valley, Pigeon Valley, Soganli etc. However, in my opinion, if you limit yourself to visiting these formations and not see a good mix of villages, formations, natural attractions etc. you will end up getting bored as you will see more of the same. We did not visit all the valleys and if you wish you can spend more time in the region to see more valleys and villages. There are also underground cities like Derinkuyu that are very popular. We decided not to visit as it was impossible for us travelling with a toddler, and also we were fearing the sense of claustrophobia that surely permeates in these places.
You can spend up to 5 full days here and still fill up your time with sight seeing, it’s your choice! However, in my opinion 3 days are just the right time to have a good mix of relaxation, visit the most popular attractions and have two or three options for your hot air balloon experience. There are also 2 nights tours from Istanbul, but I don’t think this would be enough.
What to take?
Good shoes! These are the most important thing as it was very slippery. If you are travelling in Winter, you can expect to find snow from December until February. We also took Winter clothing and thermal underwear, which we did not use. It was actually the first time we went in the snow without freezing temperatures (around -2 degrees during the day). Obviously you need to put on an extra layer for the hot air balloon experience, as it is colder in the morning, but staying close to the pilot (like I did) helped a lot as you warm up each time he lights up the fire!
When people ask me how was your trip, I usually reply ‘good because …. ‘. However Turkey exceeded our expectations and this is not easy nowadays since I usually plan every aspect of the trip beforehand and I know what to expect. The information available online prepares you for what you will experience during your trip, however I feel that to a certain extent there is a lack of information online on certain parts of Turkey especially on blogs (I am mostly referring to the next part of the trip – the Turkish riviera). So my answer for those who asked me how was your trip, this time it was excellent, better than expected. And it really feels great when a place exceeds your expectations!
A blog that helped a lot during the planning of this trip was Earth Trekkers and I highly recommend reading their posts, especially if you are doing some hiking. They have beautiful photos of the region and give good tips on trekking. I highly recommend their blog, especially if you love the outdoors and are travelling with kids.