I had mixed feelings about visiting Cappadocia for the first time in winter, but since I was already in Istanbul, I couldn’t resist hopping the short (and inexpensive) flight to the the mystical region known for it’s “fairy chimney” rock formations. Even as I boarded the plane, I couldn’t help wondering whether Cappadocia would be worth the trip in winter. I found out quickly that even as temperatures plummet, there is still a ton of things to do. Upon our arrival to the city of Goreme, we headed straight to the Goreme Open Air Museum, an essential stop on any traveler’s itinerary to the region. The “museum” is comprised of a vast collection of caves and rock cut churches whose interiors are filled with colorful frescos. I would recommend setting aside an hour, at the very least, to stroll through the open air museum. After we explored the museum, we headed across the street (literally) to the trail head and began the two hour hike to Red Valley, known for the color of it’s rock formations. Following our hike, we strolled Goreme’s city center (which is small and can easily be explored on foot), before popping into a restaurant to order some piping hot salep, a delicious milky drink made from orchid root and topped with cinnamon. After warming up, we headed to Fat Boys for dinner. You probably wouldn’t guess from the bar/restaurant’s name, but Fat Boys serves authentic Turkish fare (as well as American delights if you’re craving something other than the typical mezze and meats) in a casual, fun atmosphere. Beat from a week of fast paced travel, we retreated to our room at Aydinli Cave Hotel after dinner. If you travel to Cappadocia – you MUST stay in a cave hotel, and I would highly recommend that you choose Aydinli. The weather was chilly and it had started to snow, but our beautiful cave room was warm and cozy! Everything about our stay was perfect, but the highlight was talking about the Cappadocia region to the hotel’s owner, Mustafa Demerci. Mustafa was born and raised in the area (he literally grew up in one of the cave houses which has now become part of his hotel) and knows Cappadocia inside and out. In fact, he’s even featured in Lonely Planet’s Turkey guidebook as a local expert. You can click here to check current rates for Aydinli Cave Hotel, book online or find a great deal on another Cappadoccia hotel. The hotel itself is only about a five minute walk to Goreme’s center and was an incredible value by Western standards for such a luxurious hotel suite. Plus, the views of Goreme from the terrace will take your breath away!
Since we took our first day in Cappadocia rather easy and didn’t venture outside Goreme, our second day exploring the region was jam-packed. The day was supposed to start off with experiencing something that had been on my bucket list for quite some time – a hot air balloon ride over the fairy chimneys. Unfortunately, on this particular morning, all balloon flights were canceled due to high winds and poor visibility. Although I was disappointed (and tired from waking up before sunrise), I was still excited to get out and see more of Cappadocia.
Given our limited time and unlimited wanderlust, we decided that the best way for us to explore was to hire a private driver for the day through our hotel. Although this wasn’t the cheapest option, the price was fair ($100 USD for the day) and it allowed us to see the area comfortably and on our own schedule. Since many of area’s attractions are spread out, I would recommend that you rent a car or join a group tour if you’re traveling on a budget. Although the area is serviced by public buses, this option can be tedious and time consuming as there isn’t always a direct bus route from one attraction to the next. Our driver had a general itinerary planned for us, which we then tailored to best suit our interests. We started the day by exploring Kaymakli Underground City, which is the widest of the 36 underground cities in Cappadocia. Volcanic eruptions and erosion created Cappadocia’s landscape, but beginning in the 4th century A.D., people began to carve entire cities out of the soft rock. It was fascinating to explore the winding tunnels and see how the city’s inhabitants lived the majority of their lives underground. I would recommend that you hire one of the guides waiting outside the entrance since there is little signage and no explanation of what it is you’re looking at once you enter the tunnels. Given our limited time, (and the fact that I’ve been told that all the cities more or less look similar), Kaymakli was the only underground city that we toured. Next, we headed to Pigeon Valley, named for the pigeon houses carved into the rocks. Years ago, farmers collected the pigeon droppings and used it as fertilizer. Lucky for us, it had snowed during the night and the sparkling dusting of snow enhanced Cappadocia’s dramatic landscape even more. Pigeon Valley also offers a popular half day hike should you have time. Because some of the region’s roads were closed due to the snow, we weren’t able to visit popular Love Valley, so instead we headed to Pasabaglari, or Monk’s Valley, which also consists of some rather phallic rock formations. Next, we strolled through Devrent, or Imagination Valley, which is known for rock formations shaped like animals, before we headed to Turasan Winery for a local wine tasting and tour. (I told you we modified the route to suit our interests)! After the winery, we stopped at a lookout point with breathtaking views of the Three Beautiful Sisters. Before heading back to Aydinli, our driver took us to the panoramic lookout point over Rose Valley and Red Valley just before the sun went down.
Beat from a long day of sightseeing, we were looking forward to a relaxing dinner on what was, unfortunately, our last night in Cappadocia. Mustafa recommended Top Deck Cave Restaurant, just a two minute walk from Aydinli. Not surprisingly, his recommendation was spot on. Top Deck is a cozy, atmospheric restaurant with delicious Turkish cuisine.
So, was Cappadocia worth the trip in winter?
There are definitely some cons of visiting in winter – for instance, the fact that our hot air balloon ride was canceled due to weather conditions. This said, if you plan accordingly (i.e. make sure you have more time in the region allowing for alternate take-off dates), you’ll probably have better luck than I did. All things considered, I would say that the pros of visiting Cappadocia during the winter (low off-season accommodation rates, uncrowded attractions and the beauty of the landscape covered in snow) outweigh the cons. Although I’m disappointed I didn’t get experience my bucket-list hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia’s varied landscape, it’s okay because I know I will be back to visit in the future!
Is this magical region on your bucket list?
If you enjoyed this post, please let me know in the comments section or by sharing it with the social media links. You can also follow Flirting with the Globe on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
I was a guest of Aydinli, but my love for Mustafa’s beautiful cave hotel and Cappadocia is all my own. The hotel links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to book through the link I earn a small commission at no cost to you. I appreciate your support to keep this site up and running!