Sunday, 19 April 2009

Göreme – Gateway to Cappadocia

Any tour around Turkey should include a stay in the stunningly beautiful Cappadocia region, and the town of Göreme is a great place to base yourself to see the area.

Cappadocia boasts an incredible landscape: the region’s soft volcanic rock has been sculpted into tens of thousands of pillars and strangely-shaped columns by many centuries of wind, snow, rain, and erosion. The pliable rock has been further changed by human hands, resulting in an amazing variety of cave houses, churches, and underground cities.

The Cappadocia region was discovered by Europeans at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1744, Paul Lucas, sponsored by Louis XIV of France, declared that he had seen pyramid-shaped strange houses that had charming doors, stairs, and large windows to illuminate the rooms. He said that these ‘fairy chimneys’, as he dubbed them, reminded him of hooded priests and the rocks over them resembled the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. Fifty years later, when Lucas resumed his research in Cappadocia, he defined these ‘fairy chimneys’ as graveyards belonging to Caesarea (modern-day Kayseri). Lucas’s fantastic description was reacted to with both suspicion and interest in the west. Texier, who arrived in Cappadocia in 1833, stated that ‘nature had never showed itself to a foreigner’s eyes so extraordinarily’. In 1838, the English traveller, Ainsworth, described what he saw: “Turning up a glen which led inland from the river, we found ourselves suddenly lost in a forest of cones and pillars of rock that rose around us in interminable confusion, like the ruins of some great and ancient city. At times, these rude pinnacles of rock balanced huge unformed masses upon their pointed summits, but still more frequently the same strangely supported masses assumed fantastic shapes and forms. At one moment, it suggested the idea of a lion and at another of a bird and again of a crocodile or a fish.”

When we arrived almost two centuries later, the area had obviously well-documented, and we had seen many pictures of the bizarre landscape, but nothing had prepared us for our first sight of the rock formations – it was truly awe-inspiring!

Göreme itself is an attractive little town in the centre of Cappadocia. It is an unsurpassed example of the harmony of man and nature. People still live in the rock houses or use them as storerooms, displaying an immense reverence for this volcanic earth and history. Not only are there rock houses, but also rock restaurants and hotels which all visitors find amazing. The natural boundaries of the town are formed by the high rocks surrounding it and the fairy chimneys within; it’s a place that offers unbelievable natural treasures.

Göreme serves as a bus transportation hub with coaches arriving from and departing for all other popular destinations in Turkey on a frequent basis. It is easy to book onward travel through any of the agents operating out of the offices around the bus station. If you arrive in Göreme by bus, as we did, and, indeed, as most visitors do, then your first port of call should be the tourist information office in the middle of the bus station. If you haven’t arranged accommodation in advance, then it can be organised from here. If you have, as in our case, the tourist office staff will phone your hotel who will send a vehicle down to the bus station to collect you and your luggage and transport you there. Nowhere is very far from the town centre, but Göreme is very hilly, so you may be grateful for a lift up to your hotel!

There are many hotels and guesthouses to suit all budgets in Göreme. We stayed at the Kelebek Hotel, which I can heartily recommend. We pre-booked on-line (, and you are able to choose the room you wish to stay in in advance. We chose a regular arched room in the hotel. The rooms in the fairy chimneys sounded romantic, but we decided that the extra cost couldn’t be justified. I think we made the right decision: we heard other people during our stay complain that these rooms were quite cramped and very hot. Our room was extremely comfortable with a modern en-suite bathroom. You probably won’t spend much time in your room, anyway; the public areas of the hotel are very pleasant – the terrace overlooking the town furnished with Turkish day beds strewn with plush cushions is an ideal place to while away a few hours.

Breakfast in the Kelebek Hotel is extremely good – an expansive buffet of fresh & dried fruit, warm crusty bread, cheeses, cooked meats, eggs, cereals, honey, jam, and delicious cheese pancakes – plenty to keep you going all day! As for dinner, we didn’t eat in the hotel as the menu appeared to be quite limited and rather expensive, and, besides, the choice of eating places in town was incredible. We ate somewhere different every night and it was all good and very reasonably priced. There was a particularly good meze restaurant where we had a sun-dried tomato, pomegranate molasses, and mint salad which was an absolute taste sensation (I’ve since tried to recreate it at home with limited success!). I would also recommend the Dibek restaurant for typically Turkish food served in an authentic setting. You usually need to book in advance (the only place in town where you do), but it’s worth making the effort.

Göreme and the Kelebek Hotel offers a really relaxing, get-away-from-it-all break with some fantastic trekking in the surrounding area. The hotel also offers the best day tours available locally (see separate posting).

TOP TIP – take earplugs with you if you don’t want to be woken up at 5.30am by the roar of hot-air balloons flying over the town. They are a magnificent sight and well-worth getting up to photograph one morning, but you may not want to hear them every day!!

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