Cappadocia’s volcanic geology has created a range of bizarrely beautiful landscapes

Over the years, many of the guests on our Turkish cruises have opted to extend their vacation by a few days to visit Cappadocia, that legendary landscape in the heart of Anatolia, well known for its geological wonders and its countless historical and archaeological sites. Noting their interest, we have decided to expand our Turkish portfolio by crafting a new land tour in Cappadocia. It will take place for the first time this year, from September 3rd to 8th.

The tour will be guided by Nota Karamaouna, an Athenian archaeologist who is intimately familiar with the region, since she has travelled there frequently to undertake research for a doctorate on Cappadocia’s Byzantine monuments that she is currently completing at the École pratique des hautes études in Paris. In April, she went on a further visit to prepare the tour.

Judging from her report, she must have enjoyed a very fascinating and beautiful trip, an experience she is now getting ready to share with our guests in September.Here, you can read some of her impressions, and look at some of the amazing photographs our logistics expert, Cem Yücesoy, took in the region.

Nota was evidently impressed with the luxurious and lovely hotel we have chosen as the tour’s base, and with its evocative setting amid the volcanic scenery of Uçisar an immensely picturesque village, crowned by a crumbling castle, in the very heart of Cappadocia.

Rock-cut dwellings in the open-air archaeological museum at Göreme

“The sunset view from the terrace of our hotel at Uçhisar, ranging across the valley, was impressive and beautiful. It brought to my mind the original accounts by the early 20th century explorers and travellers in the area – the pioneers who discovered Cappadocia and its exotic volcanic landscape undergoing intense erosion. Admiring the multi-coloured tufa rock, I also thought of Strabo, the Greco-Roman geographer who knew the region well: “where the original base stands proud, one finds veins of rock crystal, onyx and gypsum, and the red clay from which the Hittites made pottery…”

She also took time to arrange for another key aspect of the tour: the delicious meals of regional specialities offered in various traditional restaurants. Cappadocia is also well known for the quality of its red wines.

A rock-cut church in the verdant Ihlara valley

“That same evening, I enjoyed some outstanding traditional Turkish cooking on the veranda of a restaurant overlooking the Valley of the Pigeons (Güvercinlik); the local meze (an assortment of small dishes), pide (Turkish pies), grilled meats and vine leaves in the style of the house, perfectly matched by a glass of excellent red wine from the area.”

But such necessary indulgences aside, most of her trip was spent on the main task. She reconnoitred different parts of Cappadocia, walked through famous volcanic valleys and explored countless archaeological and historical sites, laying the indispensable groundwork to the creation of a varied and fascinating itinerary for the September tour.

Heading for Ihlara, my collague and I stopped by the famous ancient underground city of Kaymaklı, taking time to explore its long-gone troglodytic way of life. Later, we reached the Ihlara valley, where in summer the slopes are shaded by poplars and fruit trees. At the bottom of the canyon-like valley, lined by many rock-cut churches located at the intersection of cliffs and scree, we reached the mid-point of our walking route: a little open-air tavern offered rest and refreshment. In the afternoon, we strolled around Mustafapaşa (Sinasos), a large formerly Greek village. Its restored houses feature sumptuously sculpted façades.”

Dome fresco of Christ (11th century) in Karanlık Cilise, Göreme Archaeological Park

Being specialised in the region’s enormously important Byzantine heritage, Nota takes a particular interest in its numerous rock-cut churches, many of which still bear rich fresco decoration in remarkably vivid colours (e.g. the many churches at Göreme). While her expertise in that field will certainly make for one of the highlights of the tour, it will be equally concerned with the many others phases of the area’s history, and also with its fascinating geology and its remarkable natural beauty:

We devoted an entire afternoon to walking in the Red Valley, without doubt the most fascinating excursion in the region. In all of rocky Cappadocia, there is no place more exotic, more unique than this valley, where erosion has reshaped the magmatic stone by cutting vales and gorges, dissolving the softer rocks and sculpting radiant pleated surfaces, creating am extraordinary flowering of mineral shape and colour. Cones, pyramids, fairy chimneys and round domes occur in all the varied hues of tufa: from white via yellow to pink, depending on the density and the chemical composition of the rock.”

It is clear that Nota can hardly wait to go back to Cappadocia:

Fascinating rock formations in the Red Valley

“My thoughts often return to Cappadocia, that crossroads of varied civilisations and cultures, a place where the present meets the past across a complex and enigmatic history.

In spite of the fact that I have visited the area often, and have studied it for many years, Cappadocia remains a world apart, both mysterious and alluring. Its rich and exciting history, its ancient architecture – pagan or Christian – arouses lasting curiosity and fascination.

And there is always more to discover: another beautiful landscape, a church, a temple, frescoes that range between the finest Byzantine art and a more naive “provincial” style, local products such as the famous dried apricots, savoury pies, and the superb local wine (which is just now being discovered on the international circuit), as well as the generous hospitality of the locals…”

 Maybe you would like to join her on this amazing voyage through an ancient land? There are still places available on the Peter Sommer Travels “Exploring Cappadocia” tour.

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