Cappadocia: Turkey’s most spectacular hiking destinations

A vast handwoven carpet-like pattern of shimmering caramel swirls, ochers, creams, and pinks covers the countryside. Poplar trees line the ancient lava flows from three now-extinct volcanoes as they cut through valleys dotted with conical peribac. This is Cappadocia, a region of central Turkey known for its enchanting "fairy chimneys," as the peribac are known in English.

They are numerous in Cappadocia, along with rock churches and monasteries. Former farming settlements with stone-built homes and sheds, where laypeople and monks coexisted, are scattered throughout the area. The soft porous rock known as tufa was left behind as the volcanic ash cooled. The tufa was eroded and moulded by water and wind over thousands of years.

It is simple to carve but becomes harder when exposed to air. Most of the population, according to a centuries-old custom, resided in these bizarre rock formations up until the 1950s. They are now one of Turkey's most impressive tourist destinations, frequently viewed from above by the swarms of hot air balloons that frequently fill the sky. Locals claim that walking – or riding – is the best way to really absorb everything, though. The following are some of the top ways to visit Cappadocia:

Zelve Open Air Museum

This archaeological site offers the ability to see inside historic homes, stables, kitchens, churches, and monastic rooms carved out of fairy chimneys and rock walls. It also provides an opportunity to experience a typical rural hamlet.

Here, one might envision the appearance of Cappadocia's fairy chimneys during the Byzantine era's golden age of Orthodox Christianity. Zelve was continuously inhabited from the sixth century to the twentieth century, which Tolga Uyar, a mediaeval art historian at nearby Nevºehir Hac Bektaº Veli University, finds to be astounding. That equates to more than 1,400 years. Like the majority of the Cappadocian inhabited caves, several areas have been modified, repurposed, and recarved. Zelve is a replica of a civilisation carved into rocks that has survived from the earliest Christian era to the present-day Turkish Republic. Zelve is easy to navigate thanks to its well-marked routes, which also provide a sense of what you can encounter in other valleys.

Ihlara Vadýsý

Much of Cappadocia appears dry and dead in the summer. When you look over the edge and see the tops of the beautiful green trees lining the Melendiz River below, the plains on the approach to Ihlara Vads appear to be no different from the other plains.

Ihlara Valley, which extends along its banks for its whole length, is the setting for a lovely eight-mile walk that starts in Ihlara Village and ends at Selime Manastr. Early spring is filled with romantic love melodies sung by bush nightingales, dancing flowers to the "oop oop" call of the ibibik or hoopoe bird, and the calming burble of water. There are historic churches across Cappadocia that feature murals that date back centuries. Belisrma offers lunchtime picnic areas and small eateries beside the river.The impressive Selime Monastery, thought to have been built in the eighth or ninth century BCE, may be seen when the valley widens. The 300 steps are worthwhile to climb in order to see inside.

Çavuþin to Kýzýlçukur

Several walks start from Çavuºin, a village once home to a mix of Turkish Muslims and Orthodox Christian Greeks known as Rum. Here, the huge Church of John the Baptist, dating from the fifth century, is the biggest cave church in the region. Hikers should head up through the village to the cemetery, where a track leads to Kýzýlçukur. It meanders through orchards filled with apple and apricot trees and skirts fields of grapes, ripening on the vine. There are several old churches along the way, the most famous being Üzümlü Kilise (Church of the Grapes). At Kýzýlçukur (Red Valley), the fairy chimneys are pinkish in color by day and take on a beautiful red hue at sunset due to iron ore in the tufa. It’s possible to follow the track on your own, but many of the churches are either hard to find or locked. Having a Turkish speaking guide that knows who to ask for the key makes for a richer, more rewarding experience.

Guided Hikes

Mehmet Güngör is one such tour guide. He has operated Walking Mehmet in the little town of Göreme since 1998, and he continues to live there in a house that was partially cut out of rock. He began by accident. "One day I met a couple (of tourists), and we walked with my dog for a few hours," the man said. "They left me a tip at the conclusion. I then made the decision to become a walking guide. Since then, Güngör has been imparting knowledge about his favourite locations. He has observed communities go from farming to tourism over the past 25 years. The landscape has changed as a result of the removal of agricultural chemicals and the reemergence of species of flora and wildlife that were previously thought to be extinct.

Horse tours

There are horseback trips available for people who don't want to walk. Since ancient times, Cappadocia has been referred to as the "land of wild horses" in honour of the roving creatures known as yýlký. Before agriculture became mechanized, working horses on farms were let out in the winter after the harvest to graze at will. They would be gathered and put to work again in the spring, but after tractors took their place permanently, they were left on their own. At Cemal Ranch, the horses are cared for year-round and are everything but wild. Born and reared in the nearby village of Ortahisar, Cemal Koksal is devoted to the company he founded with his brother and horse-breeding father 15 years ago. He claims that the serenity and naturalness of riding his favourite horse in such a distinctive and fascinating setting keeps him in touch with nature and with his family's history of horse breeding and training.

The Cemal Ranch offers a variety of small group tours (maximum 14 persons) for riders of all levels, including beginners and young children. Before any tour, everyone has a quick training session, and helmets are required. On lengthier visits, visitors can eat meals prepared by Koksal's mother. It is the only horseback riding company that offers access to the Rose and Red valleys of Cappadocia after dusk. It is fascinating to watch the beautiful valleys below as they transform in the light of sunset. "I am happiest on a horse and happiest riding in the lovely valleys of Cappadocia," he continues. It is the height of tranquilly and freedom.