A Winter Fairy Tale: Cappadocia

With its fairy tale landscape and unmatched natural beauty, Cappadocia is perhaps Turkey’s perfect spot in winter. The fairy chimneys pose more fetchingly than ever under a fine cover of snow, as nature and history become one.

Even if you’ve been all over the world, your memories will fade into oblivion when you set foot here, where the voices of ancient civilizations are carried on the wind. Like hats made of stone, the fairy chimneys stand proud in the sun and greet you warmly, before morphing into phantasmagoric shapes at dusk. Sunrise and sunset will transport you to completely different worlds. You will never tire of looking at Cappadocia, where nature lies spread before your eyes in all its compelling beauty.

A ‘KAYMAKLI’ BREAKFAST

Our first stop in Cappadocia is Kaymaklı, which offers a scrumptious breakfast in winter. This underground city, known in antiquity as Enegüb, is 19 kilometers from Nevşehir. Hollowed out deep below Kaymaklı Castle, four of its eight levels have been open to the public since 1964. This mysterious town, in which all houses are connected to the underground city by secret tunnels, harbors Cappadocia’s most fascinating cultural riches. Kaymaklı is noteworthy not only for its underground settlement but also for its architectural monuments, such as the Kurşunlu or ‘Leaded’ Mosque and the Church of the Virgin Mary. But one thing no visitor to Kaymaklı can leave without trying is its famous dried ‘kaymak’ or clotted cream. Redolent of the unique scent of the steppe between Misli Ovası and Budovası, dried kaymak, for which the area is named, is served either spread with honey or poured into thick fruit syrup after having been reconstituted with a little lukewarm water. Following a breakfast at Kaymaklı, Derinkuyu is an attractive spot for delving into the mysterious pages of history. Nine kilometers from Kaymaklı, Derinkuyu, literally ‘Deep Well’, takes its name from the depth of the water wells here. Inching through the narrow corridors of this settlement may take your breath away for an instant. But the flawless ventilation system ensures a plenteous supply of oxygen between the stories. Inside the ‘well’ are stables, cellars, dining halls, churches and storage areas.

HIKING THROUGH IHLARA

After Derinkuyu we head for the Ihlara Valley. A favorite with nature walkers, the valley can be reached either from Derinkuyu or, if you are coming from Nevşehir, by turning left onto the road to Güzelyurt 11 kilometers before Aksaray. Once you’ve turned off to Ihlara at the sign for Güzelyurt, the snow-capped peak of Hasan Dağı will accompany you the rest of the way. The 14-kilometer-long valley starts at Ihlara and ends at Selime. You may use other roads to get down into the valley, but perhaps the easiest way is simply to take the steps that descend straight into it. Amidst pleasant conversation, you’ll be at the bottom before you know it. The Melendiz River flows through this valley, lending it a special charm. Promising an adventure as pleasant as it is physically taxing, the Ihlara Valley also boasts 105 rock-carved churches. In addition to the Eğrıtaş Church, the Ağaçaltı, Kokar, Pürenliseki, Eskibaca and Direkli Churches all lie along your hiking route, and all are open to the public. A bit of climbing is in order if you want to see the rock-carved interiors of some of these churches.

EARTHENWARE JUGS AND PUMPKIN SEEDS
Ürgüp is the most agreeable stop for dinner in the middle of the vast Cappadocian steppe. You can find your way by simply following the aroma of the fresh-baked ‘tandır’ bread. The menu has to include ‘testi kebab’, a meat dish cooked slowly over a low wood fire in a ‘testi’ or earthenware jug. Once you’ve waited patiently for it to cook, you will never forget the resulting taste. And don’t forget to try the piping hot tandır bread and the appetizing local salads and ‘ayran’ yoghurt drink. Most restaurants in Ürgüp are proud to serve the traditional local dishes, among which are two other must-tries in the form of ‘saç kavurma’ (pieces of lamb fried on a hot iron plate) and ‘güveç’, a baked specialty served in an earthenware ramekin.  Only 15 minutes from Nevşehir by car, Ürgüp, Cappadocia’s touristic hub, is symbolized by the three fairy chimneys standing just outside it on the Nevşehir road. And the region’s markets, chock full of the local handicrafts, are the perfect place for shopping. You can find handwoven fabrics, cloth dolls, model fairy chimneys, Avanos crockery, and copper items. Don’t forget to buy some pumpkin seeds double roasted in milk at Ürgüp, where the variety is abundant.

AMONG THE ROCK-CUT CHURCHES
Cappadocia is like a poem penned jointly by wind and rain, history and geography. And perhaps the most attractive touristic spot in this whole poetic region is Göreme. Ten kilometers from Ürgüp, Göreme lies in an area crossed by valleys in the Nevşehir-Ürgüp-Avanos triangle. Churches, chapels and dining halls have been carved into every block of stone in this region, which was a center of monastic life in the 4th to 13th centuries. Together with the fairy chimneys, this centuries-old repository of natural and cultural riches is listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Inspiring awe with its Open Air Museum, the region is known as the original home of the monastic education system, and the museum that opened in 1960 includes ten such monasteries. Besides the Rahipler or Priests’ Monastery, which will be the first to greet you, other structures worth a visit in this giant open air museum include the Kızlar ve Erkekler, or Girls’ and Boys’, Monastery, the Church of the Serpent, the Chapel of St. Basil, Elmalı or Apple Church, Tokalı Church and the Church of St. Barbara. In Göreme, as in many other parts of Cappadocia, most of the places where you will want to stay are boutique hotels carved into the rocks. Venues that transport you back to ancient times and enhance the cosiness of winter with congenial tea parties served on handwoven carpets and kilims.

LAND OF JUGS AND JARS
No visit to Cappadocia is complete without a stop at Avanos on the banks of the Kızılırmak. As if to corroborate the saying, ‘Even a blind man could find his way to Avanos from the sherds along the way’, this town is the virtual home of pottery, an ancient tradition that illustrates how clayey mud can be shaped by human hands. In a tradition dating back to the Hittites, master potters knead life into clay with their hands, and you can observe the process in action on a pottery wheel in one of the many pottery workshops here. Besides the usual pots, jugs, jars and practical kitchen vessels, there are also gift items featuring the shapes and forms of ancient Anatolia, such as the Hittite and the Phrygian. Who knows, perhaps Cappadocia will even bring out the artist in you!