Sunday, 26 April 2009

The History and Adventure Tour - Göreme

This day-long tour is bookable through the Heritage Travel Company run by the Kelebek Hotel (http://www.kelebekhotel.com/) (see separate posting on Göreme, Cappadocia), and is an ideal way to experience the diversity of the Cappadocia region in just one day.

Your day begins early with a meeting with your guide. Having spoken to many tourists, I can vouch for the quality of all of the guides. Ours, Mustafa, was excellent – his in-depth knowledge really added to the day’s enjoyment. Your transport will be a new and comfortable air-conditioned minibus and your group will consist of a maximum of 12 people.

Your first stop of the day will be at a panoramic viewpoint just outside the town of Göreme. While you are taking in the stunning landscape, your guide will give you a really interesting talk on the history of the Cappadocia region.

From there, you will be taken to visit Kaymaklı, the widest of Cappadocia’s underground cities. There are over 100 subterranean cities in the area, of which 37 are open to the public. Kaymaklı is 8 levels deep, although only 4 levels have been excavated. It is not an easy visit – there is a lot of walking bent double, going both down through the levels and back up again, but it is absolutely fascinating and well worth the effort. Like the other underground cities, Kaymaklı was a place of refuge for Christians before the Arab invasion, giving shelter to 15,000 people. The air supply was drawn through ventilating chimneys, and huge millstones were used to block entrances to prevent the enemy gaining access. It was an amazing feat of engineering, and during your visit you can marvel at bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, a church, a meeting hall, storage rooms, wine presses, and some of the 30km of passages. You are able to get a real sense of people living in cities such as this one for months on end.

Your next stop will be at the Kocabeğ Winery at Uçhisar. It is a pleasant enough visit, and you are welcome to try the wines. For me, though, several years working in the wine trade, as well as our years spent living in France, have spoiled me for good wine, and I’m afraid Turkish wine just doesn’t cut the mustard.

You will then be taken to Honey Valley and given time to wander amongst the unbelievable rock formations, making the most of the myriad photo opportunities. You will be shown the cave dwelling where a monk lived a solitary life for 40 years in the 12th century. Unfortunately, 21st century visitors have used this holy place as a toilet, and the resulting stench makes the visit a quick one!

Next stop is lunch, which is taken in a cave restaurant along with many other tour groups. The atmosphere is rather touristy, but the food is good and convivial company and interesting conversation more than make up for the slightly tacky surroundings!

After lunch, you will visit a pottery in Avanos, a small town on the Red River, so-called as it is the source of the local red clay from which the pottery is made. The visit is very interesting; you will see the whole process from beginning to end and one of your group will invariably be invited to re-enact the Demi Moore pottery wheel scene from ‘Ghost’, to much hilarity all round! Seeing the ladies in the workshop hand-painting the intricate designs by eye will be a highlight. There is no pressure to buy, although the on-site shop is vast, and several of our party did succumb.

From the pottery, you will be taken to Imagination Valley, where there are many and varied rock formations, which, given the right light, and if you squint a bit, could be said to resemble a camel, a snail, a dinosaur, or, even, Elvis Presley!

A couple of what Mustafa, our guide, called ‘Japanese stops’ (off the bus, take a picture, back on the bus!) will follow, before you get to the highlight of the whole day – a sunset trek through Rose Valley. Your minibus will drop you off at the top of a deep valley and you will walk for a couple of hours before meeting up with the transport again and being taken back to your hotel. The drop down on to the valley floor is very steep and slippery in places, but, once you get the knack of staying upright, it’s quite exhilarating. The walk along the bottom of the valley takes you through a simply stunning landscape with a photo opportunity around every bend.

All in all, an excellent day out!

TOP TIP – wear sensible shoes – the underground city and the trek would be nigh on impossible in flip-flops!!

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