Fan­ta­sia has been real all along, and we’ve just found it in the an­cient, dusty scapes and air bal­loon sky-con­fetti of Tur­key.


When a friend tells you they’ve slept in a fairy chim­ney, trav­elled in a bal­loon as big as a whale, ex­plored a sub­ter­ranean city and wan­dered through a val­ley filled with gi­ant mush­rooms, you re­spond in one of two ways. “Those lu­cid dream classes are really pay­ing off” or, “You lucky devil, you’ve been to Cap­pado­cia!” If it’s the lat­ter, your mate was in­deed for­tu­itous to have ven­tured to this stone mi­rage in the heart of Tur­key’s Ana­to­lia re­gion. Al­most too trippy to be­lieve, this is a land where an­cient rock for­ma­tions reach up out of the earth like greedy hands. Where you can use the word troglodyte for real. Where you can feel free to get high first thing in the morn­ing (in a hot air bal­loon, silly). And where you can suck shisha pipes, chug ap­ple tea, gob­ble gö­zleme and bar­gain for psy­che­delic tex­tiles un­til your eyes roll back in your head and you forget there was ever a time when you didn’t know what a kilim was.


Re­mem­ber those sand­cas­tles you made as a kid, where you drib­bled a fist­ful of wet sand into a goopy, pointy pile? Well they – or some­thing re­sem­bling a mon­strous version of them – are the first things you’ll see as you drive into Cap­pado­cia. Th­ese in­fa­mous fairy chim­neys were cre­ated when three nearby vol­ca­noes started erupt­ing like Snoop Dogg on stage, drop­ping vol­canic ash, lava and basalt all over the re­gion like it was very, very hot. Earthquakes and ero­sion then whipped all that up into to­day’s rock cones, pil­lars, mush­rooms and chim­neys, some of which have had bou­tique ho­tels and houses carved into them. The dusty gul­lies sur­round­ing the for­ma­tions are lots of fun to walk through, so you’d bet­ter pack your Tim­ber­lands. If you’re ex­plor­ing the pink folded cliffs of Rose Val­ley, where


monks and her­mits lived in the fifth cen­tury, you might want to pack a hel­met too – keep­ing your eye on the track as dozens of hot air bal­loons drift over your head will be near im­pos­si­ble. The hel­met will also prove use­ful in Pi­geon Val­ley, named af­ter the hun­dreds of square pi­geon houses carved into the rock. We may think of pigeons as fly­ing rats, but in Tur­key they’re God-like, be­ing be­lieved to have helped Muham­mad (Is­lam’s great­est prophet) dis­tract his en­e­mies. You’ll feel like an ex­tra in Hitch­cock’s The Birds as they swoop over­head, but just fo­cus on the val­ley dot­ted with ap­ple, fig, pomegranate trees and small vine­yards, and the fa­mous tree hung with dozens of blue glass evil eye pro­tec­tors, and you’ll be A-okay. If you feel the need to re-cre­ate The Fast and the Fu­ri­ous: Turk­ish Drift, hire a quad bike in Göreme and hoon through the val­leys at sun­set. Or, if you’re just a big nerd and want to get your history fix, visit the Göreme Open-Air Mu­seum, a ten­th­cen­tury monas­tic set­tle­ment of tiny rock-cut chapels dec­o­rated with freaky fres­coes.


You may not have known what this word meant yes­ter­day, but give your­self five min­utes in Cap­pado­cia and it’ll be rolling off your tongue. Em­po­ri­ums stuffed with th­ese in­tri­cately wo­ven car­pets, rugs and cush­ions, which have been pro­duced since an­cient times, line the streets of Cap­pado­cia. Whether or not you’re three Efes Turk­ish beers to the wind (no judge­ment here), they’ll be im­pos­si­ble to re­sist. Ga­lerie Ik­man is the pick of the bunch, a trea­sure trove filled with thou­sands of kilim rugs, pil­low­cases, vests, floor cush­ions, sad­dle bags and more, which is worth a visit for the In­sta op­por­tu­ni­ties alone. Shop­ping in Cap­pado­cia is a wel­come respite from the hard sell of the Grand Bazaar in Is­tan­bul where you’ll likely have ar­rived from, so you can forget about telling the shop­keep­ers to de­fol (go away in Turk­ish) and fo­cus on por­ing over the tow­er­ing stacks of kilim. Try­ing not to let them top­ple onto your head while jug­gling your cup of ap­ple tea, the ul­ti­mate Turk­ish sales lu­bri­cant, will earn you ex­tra street cred, as will driv­ing a hard bar­gain once you’ve made your de­ci­sion. Take the orig­i­nal price, halve it, go from there, and don’t crack the com­ple­men­tary Efes un­til the fi­nal price has been set­tled.


Once you’ve re­alised your mum’s granny flat will never fit all the kil­ims you just bought, you’ll be ready to head un­der­ground. And not just to avoid hav­ing to down an­other cup of ap­ple tea, ei­ther. For un­derneath those hunky rock for­ma­tions lie 36 aban­doned un­der­ground cities. Kay­makli is one of the most im­pres­sive, a city that was carved eight storeys be­low ground in the fourth cen­tury and was used by the Hit­tites, Per­sians and Byzan­tine Greeks when they needed to take cover dur­ing re­li­gious wars. Bur­row­ing dozens of me­tres un­der­ground through tun­nels that are the cor­rect height only for a house elf isn’t the most com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence – even for those who aren’t mildly claus­tro­pho­bic. Es­pe­cially when your guide tells you that a tourist was re­cently stuck down there, lost for three days in the maze of tiny tun­nels. But stick it out and you’ll see sub­ter­ranean chapels, food and an­i­mal store­houses, rock-carved wine cel­lars that prove Cap­pado­cia has one of the world’s old­est wine in­dus­tries, and the place where dead bod­ies used to be stored in enor­mous jars when there weren’t other dis­posal op­tions. Fif­teen min­utes down there is kinda full on, so spare a thought for the 5,000 poor sods who used to get crammed in there to­gether for months on end.


If you’ve trav­elled all the way to Cap­pado­cia, wild camels couldn’t drag you away till you’ve taken a sun­rise hot air bal­loon ride over the lu­nar-like land­scape. The bucket-list ex­pe­ri­ence will likely set you back around 200 big ones, but it’ll be worth it. In the inky pre-dawn dark­ness your bal­loon will drift up above the world with over 100 oth­ers, cre­at­ing the ul­ti­mate sky party. You’ll watch the sun pop up over the jagged hori­zon, set­ting the sur­round­ing bal­loons and rock for­ma­tions ablaze, and when you fi­nally come back down to earth a glass of cham­pagne, a cheesy medal and an even cheesier t-shirt will await you. Take them all. Be­cause when you get back home burst­ing with tales of fairy chim­neys, bal­loon rides and en­chanted un­der­ground cities, it’ll be your turn to prove it wasn’t all just a lu­cid dream.


Dibek ( dibek­tra­di­tion­al­, housed in an his­toric home in Göreme’s main vil­lage, is where to head for cross­legged floor cush­ion ac­tion and tra­di­tional home-style gö­zleme, okra soup and pot­tery ke­babs. For an al­fresco arvo drink, Ana­to­lian Kitchen’s the spot. Bags one of the cane so­fas in the gar­den, or­der a glass of nar­ince (Turk­ish chardy) or raki (Turk­ish ouzo), or if you really want to live on the edge, a Turk­ish turnip juice.


If you come to Cap­pado­cia and don’t stay in a cave ho­tel you may as well have stayed home. Cap­pado­cia Cave Suites ( cap­pado­ci­a­ in Göreme is a good mid-bud­get op­tion, tricked out with lo­cal tex­tiles and trea­sures, with a break­fast pa­tio that’s primo for bal­loon watch­ing. If you’re af­ter a pool, check out Lo­cal Cave House ( lo­cal­cave­

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