Cappadocia’s enchanting landscape remains unparalleled in history and mystery. Ten million years ago, eruptions from the volcanic Mt. Erciyes (3916m) and Mt. Hasan (3268m) covered the underlying plateaus with tufa, a soft stone made of lava, ash, and mud. Rain, wind, and flooding from the Kızılırmak River shaped the tufa into a striking landscape of cone-shaped monoliths called peribacalari (“fairy’ chimneys”), grouped in valleys and along gorge ridges. Chunks of hard basalt trapped on the surface of the prehistoric sludge protected the underlying tufa from wind erosion, thus forming bouldered caps on many of the fairy chimneys.
Cappadocia’s unique landscape has long been a hotbed of religious activity. From about 525 BC, the fire worshipping Zoroastrian Persians revered the region’s Erciyes Dag and Hasan Dag as holy mountains. Early Christians also found inspiration in Cappadocia; by the 4th century, it was a major center for Christian philosophy and civilization. Hiding from Romans, Iconoclasts, Sassanids, and Turks, these hardy Christians carved beautifully frescoed churches and colossal underground cities into the pliant tufa. Throughout Cappadocia’s staggering moonscapes, stairs, windows, and sentry holes have been carved into the rock. Many of these “troglodyte dwellings” arc still used as houses, storage rooms, or stables, while others have been converted into hotels and bars.
Visitors today are both captivated by the genius of ancient civilizations and inspired by pristine hikes through Cappadocia’s bizarre geology, which is sometimes compared to the Grand Canyon on acid. Most travelers reside in the touristy and convenient towns of Göreme and Ürgüp. The more authentic villages of Gtize- lyurt, Üçhisar, Mustafapaşa, and Ihlara may tempt you to abandon your life plans and become a local shepherd or hiking guide.
If you can only spare a day or two, it is probably easiest to stay in Göreme, visit the spectacular Open-Air Museum, and then see the highlights of Cappadocia on one of the local companies’ full-day toms.
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From June to September, a dolmuş follows the Ürgüp, Göreme, Çavuşin, Zelve, Avanos circuit (Leaves Ürgüp M-F every 2hr. 10am-6pm; returns from Avanos M-F every 2hr. 9am-5pm). Dolmuş also run frequently between Ürgüp and Mustafapaşa, and Ürgüp and Ortahisar. In winter, most connections within Cappadocia must be made via Nevşehir, from which buses depart every 30min. for all major Cappadocian towns. Transportation within this region costs between $.60 and $2.50. Most visits to southern Cappadocia must be made through Aksaray. Buses from Nevşehir to Ankara stop in Aksaray (every hr., $2.50).
If you have the funds, car and motorbike rentals can be a great way to stray from the beaten path and explore the captivating landscape and mysterious caves. Cars start at about $30 per day, though prices skyrocket to about $50 for automatics. Europcar (341 34 88 or 341 43 15) in Ürgüp rents automatics with A/C for $20 per day. Rental agencies in Göreme and Ürgüp rent bicycles ($3 per hr. or $14 per day), mopeds ($8 per hr. or $20 per day), and motorcycles ($50 per day). Fairy Chimney Tours next to the Göreme Otogar also boasts a beautiful 5-seater 1070 custom Ford convertible in its rental fleet ($45 per 24hr.).
Guided tours of Cappadocia’s major sites are organized by agencies in Göreme and Ürgüp. Tour packages typically include a day-long tour of the region, as well as bus, lunch, and admission to all sites ($30).
Nevşehir serves as Cappadocia’s transportation hub, and even “direct” transport to any town in Cappadocia will probably entail a bus switch in Nevşehir. The city is unimpressive to the tourist’s eye and a tiresome 2km walk from the otogar.
However, Nevşehir’s quiet local flavor is visible everywhere: blue-uniformed school children meander the roads as side street shop owners gossip across clothes racks and backgammon boards.
Buses leave the otogar for: Adana (4hr.; 9am, 1:30, 1:30pm; $7.50); Alanya (12hr.; 11am, 7, 9pm; $17.50); Ankara (4hr., 11 per day 9am- 8pm, $7.50); Antalya (10-11hr.; 11am, 7, 8, 9pm; $15); Bodrum (14hr., 8:30pm, $18.75); Bursa (9hr., 6:30pm, $13.75); Istanbul (10hr., 5 per day 7:30-9pm, $15); Izmir (12hr.; 7:30,9:30pm; $15); Kayseri (11hr., 11 per day 7am-7pm, $2.50); Konya (1hr., 1 per day, $6.25); Marmaris (14hr., 8pm); Mersin (5hr.; 9am, 1:30, 4:30pm; $7.50). Dolmuş leave from tire otogar for Aksaray, Üçhisar, Niğde, Göreme, Ortahisar, Ürgüp, Avanos, and Kayseri (M-Sa every 30min. 7am-7pm, Su every hr. 7am-7pm; Oct-May M-Sa every 30min. 7am-5pm, Su every hr. 7am-5pm; $.75).
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
The two main streets in Nevşehir are tire east-west Atatürk Ave., and, perpendicular to it, Lale Cad. Lale Cad. runs uphill to the right of the otogar before intersecting Atatürk Ave. (called Yeni Kayseri Cad., east of the Lale Cad. intersection). The Nevşehir Belediye (municipal) buses from Ürgüp and Göreme stop on Lale Cad. before reaching the otogar. The helpful staff at the Tourist Office, 14 Yeni Kayseri Cad. (213 36 59), one block west of the town’s Atatürk statue, offers free maps and brochures, on the far east of Atatürk Ave., across from the Nevşehir Museum. The organized staff and anglophone owner handle anything from airplane tickets to $15 guided day tours of Cappadocia. The Nevşehir Hospital (213 12 00), next door to the tourist office, is the town’s main facility for medical emergencies. Restaurants, pharmacies, shops, a tea garden, several ATMs, and PTTs (open M-F 8:30am-12:30 pm, 1:30-5:30 pm) line Atatürk Ave.
ACCOMMODATIONS, FOOD, AND ENTERTAINMENT
The family-run Hotel Seven Brothers 0, Kayseri Cad., 23 Tusan Sole, has TVs and private baths in each of its 48 rooms. (213 49 79 or 212 81 78; fax 213 04 54. Breakfast included. Singles $10; doubles $16. Children under 12 free.) Nearby, Otel Nisa O, 35 Yeni Kayseri Cad., just off Atatürk Bul., has TV’s and private showers in its rooms, some with balcony views. (213 58 43 or 212 61 68; fax 213 58 43. Breakfast included. Singles $8; doubles $15; triples $18.) Şems Otel, on Atatürk Bul., has well-furnished rooms with private showers. (»213 35 97; fax 213 08 34. Breakfast included. $10 per person.) Questionable hotels with dirt-cheap rooms ($2-3) dot the western end of Atatürk Ave.
Turkish “fast food” peppers Nevşehir’s streets, and you can grab decent kebap, döner, and lahmacun for under $3. Nightlife in Nevşehir is as non-existent as virgins in a Trabzon “hotel”; instead, spend your time getting massaged, scrubbed, and scraped at the Damat İbrahim Paşa Hamam, 43 Camikebir Cad. (213 26 58), where $10 buys a divinely complete hamam experience. The hamam is part of the larger Damat İbrahim Paşa mosque-bath-meeirese complex, completed in 1727.