Göreme

Goreme National Park in Turkey features an ethereal landscape of sculpted rocks through natural erosion and provides an excellent backdrop for Turkey's iconic hot air balloon festival. This magical region features fairy chimneys and byzantine art, along with a true one-of-a-kind landscape that is both breathtaking and unforgettable.

Every morning at sunrise, Göreme transforms into a magical village right out of a fairytale. Over the fairy chimneys and canyon edges, more than a hundred hot air balloons take to the Cappadocia sky. As the first light starts to filter into the sky, you can already hear the low roar of balloons filling up in the distance. Sunset Point, also known as Lover’s Hill, is the best place to get phenomenal (and very photogenic) views of the sunrise, and it often fills up with tourists who are almost as fun to watch as the sky itself. And okay, if you’re dying to hop in a balloon and take it all in from a bird’s eye view, there will be plenty of opportunities. Your hotel should be able to hook you up with a tour company (most companies will even throw in a bottle of champagne so you can sip some bubbly from the comfort of your balloon basket), but I recommend using caution and doing your research to find a company that is reputable, safe, and exercises extreme caution in high winds.

There is nothing on earth like the whimsical landscape surrounding and encompassing Göreme. When you travel to this cave city by bus, it’s entirely hidden from view until you’re upon it. And then, suddenly, the valley opens up and you’re met with an incredible view of a city where rock blends into modern building materials seamlessly. Fairy chimneys, the distinctive (and very phallic) rock structures that the region is famous for, are scattered among the caves and buildings with lights glittering in windows hand-carved millennia ago. It’s hard to say if Göreme, and the whole surrounding region of Cappadocia, is more impressive for its natural wonder, with huge valleys full of cultivated greenery gone wild and distinctive colored rock formations, or for the human history of the region and the sheer scale of the tunnels and caves which were carved into a unique and unforgettable city. Just a kilometer and a half out from the city center is the Göreme Open Air Museum, which is a must see. There are audio guides available or you can visit with a tour group. But there are also plenty of informational signs around, so a guide isn’t necessary. The museum features ancient Christian churches with fantastic murals preserved inside them. Shell out a couple of extra lira to visit the Dark Church; it was the most incredible of the cave churches there, and I was able to bribe the guard with a cigarette to let me take photos inside! Most of the hotels and hostels in Göreme are cave hotels, so the rooms are carved out of rock, and they range in price from budget rooms to fancy cave suites. There’s something for every traveler to this region and hiking in the valleys around Göreme yields lots of crumbly cave structures to explore. If you get up at sunrise, you’ll see the whole valley filled with hot air balloons in a scene so surreal and magical you will never forget it!

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