Cappadocia: Turkey's Diamond in the Rough

Imagine what you would see if you were standing on the moon: a desolate landscape with a deeply pockmarked surface, its ashen topography showing definition only where the shadows dip in the craters and drape the rocky ridges. While the terrain seems otherworldly, this moonscape actually exists on earth in what is known as Cappadocia – part of Turkey’s Central Anatolia region. Ancient underground cities and churches carved from rock scatter this unusual land, formed by lava eroded over thousands of years by rain and wind. Once a secret refuge for early Christians fleeing persecution, Cappadocia has stood the test of time and today offers travelers a rare glimpse at life in the Bronze Age.

Ürgüp [Cappadocia, Turkey]
Ürgüp |
Travelers seeking to explore Cappadocia often make the terracotta town of Ürgüp their vacation base.

The town and district is located in the historical Nevsehir Province, not far from the underground cities and cave churches of Göreme. Ürgüp is popular with international visitors and Turkish citizens because it offers many more accommodations than its neighboring Central Anatolia cities. Here, you can sleep in centuries-old cave rooms deep in the ground. Contemporary cafes, shops and restaurants serving traditional meals like pastirmali kuru (spicy meat and beans) and local wine offer a modern flair in a town formed by volcanos literally millions of years ago.

Göreme Open-Air Museum [Cappadocia, Turkey]

Göreme | While very sparsely populated, the small town of Göreme is known best for its distinct rock formations, not the number of residents that live there. 

The “fairy chimneys” (tall spires of sand and stone once part of volcanoes) stand tall throughout the town and the outlying areas, like watchtowers guarding the Bronze Age town. At the Göreme Open Air Museum, you can walk among the caves and fairy chimneys and marvel at the frescos and geometric designs within the old churches. Take home a piece of local pottery or try a one of Göreme’s unique meals involving food that is prepared within a clay pot and broken open to eat. After a stroll underneath the Love Valley stone towers or a heart-pumping hike along the trails weaving through the dry land, relax in an authentic Turkish bath.

Uçhisar [Cappadocia, Turkey]

Uçhisar | This little Central Anatolia city is home to the highest point in Cappadocia. Surrounded by scores of dusty stone homes and buildings, Uçhisar looks more like an intricate ant mound from the distance than a tourist destination. 

The Uçhisar Castle can be seen from towns several miles away, such as Ürgüp. Travelers can climb the rising path to the stone fortress and tour the rooms carved from the massive rock. The panoramic views of the region from the top are breathtaking, if the arid climate hasn’t already stolen your breath from the hike. Perhaps the hot air balloon rides offered in Uçhisar, Göreme and other nearby towns present the most curious vantage point of the ancient carved dwellings camouflaged within the cratered desert of Cappadocia.

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Lauren Elizondo

Autumn foliage, architectural decay, that feeling you get in your stomach when you speed over a dip in the road – these are just a few of Lauren Elizondo’s favorite things she’s had the chance to experience while traveling. When Lauren’s not writing abo

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