Cappadocia: Fairy-tale Land

Few places in the world are blessed with the combination of world class landscapes and historical sites but Cappadocia has a plethora of both.  The peculiar landscape with its endless array of rock formations is home to some of Christiany’s earliest cave churches, many still adorned with colorful frescoes.  A visit to the caves or a hike among the formations would be reason enough to come here so taking the time to visit Cappadocia is well worth the journey.

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The other worldly ladscape of Cappadocia

I have been lucky enough to visit this region twice during two different seasons.  Due to the sheer amount of information needed to cover Cappadocia, this area will be broken into two different posts.  In this post, I will discuss my three favorite hiking routes that should not be missed.  The following post will contain information on other activities in Cappadocia, including day trips that are in the area.

Cappadocia: Day Hiker’s Paradise

Cappadocia has some of the best day hikes in the world, allowing travelers to hike through world class landscapes just a short walk away from their hotel room.  The area is lined with hundreds of trails and valleys offering ample opportunities worthy of days of exploration.  After hiking throughout the area, I have narrowed down my three favorite hikes here.  All three of the hikes can be shortened to fit your abilities and needs.

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Every valley has a different look to it

Hike 1: Pigeon, White, and Love Valley

Distance: 8.5 km / 5.3 miles  Route: A to B

Introduction

One of the busier routes in Cappadocia , this should not deter you from traversing through some of the areas most famous rock formations.  This route will take you through three valleys each with very different formations from each other.  Uchisar Castle serves as a place to rest your legs and grab some food mid day and finishes off with the phallic towers of stone in love valley.

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Gazing out into White Valley

Hike Description

The trail head to pigeon valley is at the far southwest of the town of Goreme.  The trail starts out rather dull, passing through several tunnels before the valley narrows bringing the wavy moon like landscape closer to you.  As you walk, notice the many caves up high in the rock walls which were once used by christian hermits centuries ago.  Now most of the caves act as pigeon houses, hence the valleys name today.

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The beginning section of the pigeon valley trail

After a short while, the trail will split with one path leading down into a small valley to the left while the other rises up the larger valley to the right.  The trail to the left is a dead end but has some rather scenic spots, making it a good short detour.  Climb up the trail to the right, making sure to look back periodically  at the stunning view that goes far into the distance.  There are the remains of some cave homes on the right hand side of the valley that are worthy of exploration after passing the small cafe.  The end of the valley will open up to several trails that crisscross each other with most leading to your halfway point, Uchisar Castle.

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Halfway to Uchisar Castle

There are some great views if you take the trails to your left that seem to travel away from the castle but eventually connect with a trail that heads straight into town.  Once in town, it is a steep climb up the narrow roads that lead to the castle.  Along the way, there are plenty of places to have lunch and buy snacks and water.

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Peering back at Pigeon Valley from on of the many ancient caves

Uchisar Castle can be seen from most points in Cappadocia and is quite the sight with all its honey combed dwellings that dot the mountain top.  The hilltop castle was used by locals during times of invasion and today has become one of Cappadocia’s major tourist attractions.  The castle has the best bird’s eye view of the area that doesn’t require a hot air balloon and is well worth the climb up.  Once you take in the views it is time to hit the second leg of this hike.

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Views of Uchisar from pigeon valley

The second half of the hike starts at the White Valley trail head just outside of Uchisar.  Head north out of town, descending towards the main road that heads back to Goreme.  Once you get to the main road, cross it and head down the dirt road for roughly 800 meters where you will see a very discreet trail head down into white valley.  The trail here is very steep and slick so proceed with caution.  This is my favorite valley in Cappadocia with many parts feeling like you are on the moon.  The trail is very easy to follow and any splits along the trail will all eventually lead to the same place.

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Taking a break before heading up to Uchisar castle

After several kilometers, white valley becomes love valley which is the most famous and well known valley of Cappadocia.  Love Valley gets its name due to the array of large penis like columns that are scattered throughout.  There is one large grouping along the trail which is great for some humorous photos.

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Above White Valley

Once you’ve had your laugh, continue down the trail until you hit a road.  Take a right and follow the road to the main road between Nevshire and Goreme.  From here you can hitchhike or wave down a passing bus to get back to Goreme.

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Comparing sizes in Love Valley

Hike 2: Sword and Rose Valley

Distance:  7km / 4.5 miles  Route: A to B

Introduction

Offering a great introduction to Cappadocia, a hike through these two valleys allows you to get a taste of all that Cappadocia has to offer.  Stunning scenery as well as a few impressive cave churches are the highlights of this hike.  Rose and Red Valley, which acts as a backdrop for so many shots throughout Cappadocia is even better close up as you hike through it.

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Stunning Rose Valley

Hike Description

The trail head to sword valley is located just before the Church of the Buckle which is located on the road to the Goreme Open Air Museum.  Sword Valley is littered with long abandoned cave churches, many of them still adorned with red crosses and decorative trim.  The path heads up and down throughout a sampling of the variety of rock formations to be found elsewhere in the region.  Eventually, you will make your way down to a castle where the whole rock face is covered with a network of churches and old dwellings spaces.

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Some of the early christian art the remains in many of the caves

From the castle, it is a 600 meter walk to a small cafeteria with small snacks and drinks.  This marks the beginning of rose valley which narrowly winds its way along the valley floor before climbing up to dramatic views up high.  Before ascending be sure to check out the rather large columned church accessed by a small bridge.  The vaulted ceiling and remaining artwork is beautiful and the structure is very different from other cave churches you will see in Cappadocia.  If you packed a lunch, the dark church makes for a meditative spot to regain some energy before climbing up the valley.

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Meditating within the confines of columned church

The path them climbs up the valley opening up to some of Cappadocia’s best views.  Once you get near the top of the valley, there is a cafeteria with incredible views of the surrounding area.  Above the cafeteria there is a fantastic church with very well preserved frescoes that the people who own the cafe manage.  The church is free but they do ask for you to buy something.  The freshly squeezed orange juice is quite refreshing after a long day of getting here.

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Stunningly preserved frescoes at the church near the cafeteria

After riding the many ridges up top, the trail descends steeply back down to the valley floor.  Near the top their is another great cave church called Ayvali Kilise but it was locked when we tried to visit.  Great caution must be taken here as the terrain is not very stable, making slips and falls likely.  Claire was having trouble getting down so the local who was amusingly watching us from below scampered up to help drag her down the hill all while being barefoot.

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Taking a break from the sun

Once on the valley floor the trail zigzags its way among the rock walls where there is one more noteworthy church to visit.  To get to the church requires a small climb from where you can see what remains of the badly damaged frecoes.  The artwork here is different from the typical images you see in the cave churches.

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While mostly destroyed, the artwork here differs from other churches in Cappadocia

After the church, follow the trail the leads to Cavusin.  On the main road you will see a bus stop from where you can hitchhike or wave down a passing bus to get back to Goreme.

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Rose and Red Valley in the background

Hike 3: Zemi Valley to Uçhisar Castle

Distance: 6.7 km / 4.2 miles  Route: A to B

Introduction

This hike takes you through one of the quieter valleys of the region passing by many old cave churches that you can explore.  The end of the trail opens up to a wonderful lunar landscape and offers the best views of Uchisar Castle.

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Uchisar castle

Hike Description

The trail head to Zemi Valley is located along the road to the Goreme Open Air Museum just after the Tourist Hotel (creative name).  The beginning of the trail has some fairy chimneys that look like giant penises.  Shortly after the trail begins, you can make a detour to El Nazar church which is a 500 meter detour (one way).

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Exploring the tight tunnels inside the caves along the trail

Along the trail you will see many pigeon holes and cave churches, some of which you can explore.  Farther down the trail are two more churches, Karabukut Church and Sarnic Church.  Continue down the trail until there is a split.  Head right to where there are several great viewpoints up along the narrow ridges.  It will feel like you are walking on the moon.

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Great views up on top

After taking photos, head towards Uchisar, easily found due to the castle the looms large over the town.  This will be your best views of the ancient town and castle.  After making your way into town you can head up to the castle for incredible views.

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Looking back at Zemi Valley

After exploring the castle you can either take a bus or hitchhike back to Goreme or if you have the time and energy continue on through white and love valley (this would be a very long day).

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Up above Zemi Valley

Cappadocia: A Dreamland for All

With so many hikes and valleys to explore, no one trip to Cappadocia would be complete.  Hikers of all sorts will be satisfied with the opportunities that abound in the region making Cappadocia one of the highlights of any visit to Turkey.

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Enjoying our time in Cappadocia

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