Today we began our first of three days of walking among the valleys of Cappadocia to explore the geology and history of the area. We met our guide, Eldin, at the hotel and a driver drove us to the high-end of Zemi Valley for our first day’s hike. The driver then delivered our luggage to our hotel in the town of Uchisar where we will spend the night tonight. The walk took us down the valley through forests of cottonwood trees, through short rock tunnels, and among strange rock formations. The bottom of the canyon was covered with old groves of apple trees and grape vines, all of which were loaded with fruit. The fruit trees provided us with a ready-to-eat snacks whenever we got the urge to munch. We walked past numerous pigeon houses and troglodyte houses carved into the rock. At one place, we climbed a ladder and explored the inside of a small church carved into the rock.
At the bottom of the valley, we were close to the Goreme Open Air Museum that we explored yesterday. We walked a short distance up through another valley and ended up back in the downtown section of Goreme. We ate the lunch packed by our tour company at an outdoor table in the downtown area. They definitely did not skimp on the lunch – we had more than enough to eat. We’d pretty much seen all there was to see in this backpacker/tourist town, so we were quite happy to shoulder our packs for the climb up to our final destination, the village of Uchisar.
Out of Goreme, the trail climbed steeply up Pigeon Valley, passing more unusual rock formations. Along the way, we made a stop at a little tea garden run by a rather interesting older fellow by the name of Hasan. Hasan spoke at least five languages fluently. Upon arrival at Hasan’s Tea Garden, he told to be very quiet and have a look at a family of turtles sleeping in his apple tree; we each took a turn climbing up a short ladder to peer under a blanket. As it turned out, Hasan has placed three carved turtles underneath the blanket – we all got a chuckle out of that. We sat under some shade trees and enjoyed Hasan’s apple tea and his sense of humor for quite a while.
While we sipped our tea, Hasan asked each give us a trivia question about Turkey, such as the name of three countries neighboring Turkey or who was the first President of Turkey. If we got the answer right, he gave us a little present. We all answered our questions correctly, so we each got a present. Hasan had one last question for us. He warned us that if he didn’t like our answer, he would get angry and take all of our presents back. If he was happy with our answer, we would let us keep our presents. Hasan’s last question for us was to name his age. Our hiking companion quickly blurted out twenty (even though he’s clearly much older)! Hasan was quite pleased with the answer and let us keep our presents.
After our enjoyable rest with Hasan, we said our goodbyes and continued our climb to Uchisar. This village sits at the base of a large formation called “The Castle,” which is the highest point in Cappadocia, about 1000 meters, and is not all that far from Goreme. After checking in to our pension, Valerie and I wandered around the town and then climbed to the top of The Castle for some sunset views of Cappadocia. The light of the setting sun gave a beautiful glow to the canyons and fairy chimneys of the area, which provided some excellent photographic opportunities.
After a good night sleep at our very comfortable pension, we hoisted our packs and started walking down Love Valley. The valley is loaded with the unusual Fairy Chimney formations for which Cappadocia is famous. From the bottom of Love Valley, we crossed over into Rose Valley and walked up the valley. By around 11:00 AM, the temperature was getting uncomfortably hot. In the shade of the cottonwood trees or inside the cave dwellings, the temperature was quite comfortable. But out in the open, the sun reflected off the valley walls and baked us. We had lunch at a shaded table at a small café in Rose Valley, which provided welcome relief from the heat and a glass of much appreciated fresh-squeezed orange juice. After lunch we explored an ancient sixth century church that was hollowed out of the rock and covered with worn, but still visible, Christian frescoes.
The remainder of the day was spent walking on a ridge above Rose Canyon. By this time, the sun was beating down on us relentlessly. No amount of water seemed to help with our comfort level as by now, it was well over 90 degrees with not a cloud in the sky. Around 3:00 PM, we finally reached the village of Cavusin, where we would spend the night. Before going to the hotel, we explored the Church of St. John the Baptist, a massive labyrinth of passageways and rooms carved out of a large rock formation towering above the town. The inside of the church brought another very welcome relief from the heat as it was nice and cool.
Our last day of hiking began with a drive to the village of Cat, where we would explore two canyons – walk down one canyon and up another to end at the same place that we began. The weather forecast once again was hot, so we made sure we had all the water we could carry. Fortunately, the first valley was nicely shaded which made for comfortable walking. The highlight of this valley was a large series of pigeon house carved into a cliff wall. From the valley floor we could look up and see a myriad of small windows, leaving us to question how the inhabitants got up there…we soon found out. We spent the next hour or so climbing in-and-out of narrow, precipitous passages that connected the individual rooms of the dwelling. We started from the valley bottom and eventually exited a small opening that brought us out the top of the canyon wall. Valerie and I both had the skinned-up knees and elbows to show just how arduous this little climb was.
After a very relaxing lunch in a large grove of cottonwood trees, we continued our hike up another canyon back towards Cat. The highlight of this canyon was the many “Fairy Chimneys” we passed along the valley floor. As we entered afternoon, the temperature once again started climbing. We were protected from the sun by the ample shade of the valley floor, but soon we found ourselves back on top of the plateau walking back towards the village. Thankfully, our van was able to navigate the dirt road to pick us up, thus limiting our time in the blazing sun.
Our walking tour of Cappadocia ended when our driver dropped us off at a pension in the village of Avanos. Awaiting us was a comfortable bed, a well-deserved shower, and a delicious dinner. After dinner, our driver took us to a Whirling Dervishes Ceremony at Carevanserai, about a 15 minute drive from Avanos. The ceremony was an abbreviated version of a full Whirling Dervishes Ceremony (that can last up to 4 hours) and lasted about an hour. It was quite an interesting experience – I highly recommend it.
Although we spent a better part of each day in Cappadocia hiking, it certainly wasn’t strenuous hiking. The elevation gain/loss on each day was not that significant. What made it challenging was the heat. We weren’t prepared for such warm temperatures in late September, with each day reaching well into the 90’s and no cloud cover to help alleviate the heat. The sun was made even more intense by the reflection off the valley walls.
Footnote: If you are in Cappadocia, I highly recommend reading “Dance with Death” by Barbara Nadel. The book truly brings the area to life!
You can view a video of our experience Exploring Cappadocia on Foot here.