My Cappadocia explorations begin at Goreme. Per Lonely Planet:
Surrounded by epic sweeps of lunarscape valleys, the remarkable honey-coloured village of Goreme, hollowed out of the hills, may have long since grown out of its farming hamlet roots but its charm has not diminished. In the back alleys new boutique cave hotels are constantly popping up but tourists still have to stop for tractors which trundle up narrow winding roads where elderly ladies dally for hours on sunny street-side stoops doing their knitting.
The description is accurate: Goreme is a sleepy town with just enough going on not to be boring. It’s a good base for exploring some of the many excellent hiking trails in the area or just wandering aimlessly to catch glimpses of real life in Cappadocia.
Goreme is situated among multiple valleys, and is the starting point for several scenic hikes, including a 1-2 hour trek through Kiliclar Vadisi:
Or a person can tackle the stretch of the Rose Valley from here:
Plodding through these dusty, strange environs I feel like a Dothraki in search of my horse, to the point where I can hear the Game of Thrones theme song in my head.
From the town of Goreme I walk the highway to the Goreme Open Air Museum, a vast complex of rock-cut churches, chapels and monasteries and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s possible to walk from Goreme to Uchisar uphill through Pigeon Valley, but considering that I’m traveling solo, the temperature is approaching triple-digits beneath this July sun, and the fact that I would somehow have to return to my parked car, I drive the distance.
Lonely Planet‘s description of Uchisar:
Pretty little Uçhisar has undergone rapid development since the heady Club Med days. The French love affair with the cliff-top village continues each summer as busloads of Gallic tourists unpack their joie de vivre in trendy hotels at the foot of Uçhisar Castle. The royal rectangular crag, visible from nearby Göreme, is the dramatic centrepiece of a stylish Cappadocian aesthetic, albeit at times a touch manufactured.
I park at the outskirts of Uchisar, and walk the length of the picturesque village to the castle.
In addition to staying in a cave hotel and taking a hot air balloon ride, another one of the “things to do” in Cappadocia is to tour an underground city. The Mazi Underground City is one of the best known in the region.
Spoiled by the proximity between Urgup, Goreme and Uchisar, the drive down to Mazi is becoming a little long, and the route is not quite as intuitive as the map suggests. I eventually arrive at a somewhat deserted intersection, the cave entrance to the left of my car, a picnic table of swarthy men smoking and playing cards to my right. They stare at me.
I back-up, turn around and speed out of here while silently castigating myself for coming all this way and chickening out. Mustering up all the bravery I can, I stop again, turn around, continue to the underground city and swarthy men, park the car and get out, oscillating between trepidation and determination. Trepination.
One of the men gruffly beckons me over to the cave entrance — just a little hole in the wall — and hands me my flashlight. Aside from his buddies, there’s no one else in sight. I look down the hole to the long, dark tunnel below. Me, a strange man, in a foreign country, alone in in a shadowy underground city.
It’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity. I hand my flashlight back to the man, apologize for inconveniencing him (not that we speak the same language), and scoot back to my car.