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The Wildest Landscape on Earth

Fairy chimneys, mushroom towers, cave castles...You’d think George Lucas made this place up, but the soft volcanic rock of Central Anatolia has actually been shaped by millions of years of erosion and 5,000 years of savvy civilization. Once the home to Hittites, Romans and Ottomans, these days Cappadocia is both a cultural mecca and adventurer’s paradise. Here’s everything you must do there, from hot air balloon rides to lessons in grape leaves.

Where to Stay

Why not sleep in a cave?

Museum Hotel

This incredible property is built directly into a 3,000-year-old rock dwelling, for an experience that’s both ultra-luxe and ultra-primitive. (You’ll feel like you should be chowing down on a mutton leg, Game of Thrones-style.) The sweeping views of sculpted valleys and the incredible Turkish restaurant are nothing to sneeze at. But the real reason to make a reservation? The endless wine tap that runs straight from the bar and into your room.

What to Do

Channel your inner Indiana Jones

Explore Ancient Cities

There are so many fascinating heritage sites around Cappadocia. But since you must pick, go with Çavuşin, a Byzantine village carved in the cliffs; Kaymakli, an underground city dating back to 800 BC; and the Göreme Open Air Museum, the elaborate cave monasteries where 10,000 monks lived and worshiped until the 14th century. Since many of the top sites are spread about the region, hire an expert guide to drive you around. (We’re fans of Matiana Travel for exhilarating day trips.)

balloon Hotairbalooncapadocia.com

Charter a Hot Air Balloon

When you sign up for a hot air balloon tour, you’re signing up for views of volcanic valleys, ancient dwellings and fairy chimneys you can practically reach out and touch. Afraid of heights? Wake up at sunrise to watch dozens of colorful balloons pepper the sky…from a safe distance, of course.

lovevalley domachowski_wojciech/Flickr

Hike Love Valley

Head to this natural wonder for a day-long jaunt through a psychedelic Eden. Here, you’ll meander through forests of wild quince, apples and grapes and discover geological masterpieces around every bend--from solid waves of lava flow to mushroom-tipped towers. Go for at least one day; it’s easy trekking and the scenery never gets old.

Where to Eat

Bring on the baked lamb and stuffed grape leaves

Ziggy's Café

Grab a seat on one of the four cascading terraces of this stone house turned chic restaurant for a light bite, sunset cocktails or a late lunch of excellent mezzes. Digest with a little shopping at the owner’s atelier, where you can nab her handmade jewelry and accessories.

muti pinarsabanci/Instagram

Muti

Feed your inner gypsy with lunch at what was once a historic inn for Silk Road caravans. Muti serves up creative Turkish cuisine like mezze pastries filled with cinnamon-mint beef and mains of baked lamb with quince and red wine. Bonus points for generous portions.

homecooking Trip Advisor

CAPPADOCIA HOME COOKING

Turkish cooking is so good, you’re going to want to replicate at it home. Learn the tricks of the trade from Mama Havva, a little old Anatolian lady who uses ingredients from her family’s garden to teach you to stuff grape leaves, fold manti ravioli and do almost sinfully amazing things with eggplant.

 

What to Skip

Don’t get taken in by charlatans

Pottery Demos

The people of Avanos have been crafting ceramics since the days of the Hittites, and if you’re into pottery, it’s definitely worth a stop. Just don’t get sucked in by the first studio claiming fame or deals. Instead, head straight to Ömürlü Ceramics to see the real masters at work.

What to Pack

boots

Hiking Shoes

The volcanic ash that makes up Cappadocia can be slippery underfoot, whether you’re seriously hiking or just strolling a historical site. Bring shoes with ankle support and solid treads for safety and comfort.

REI ($115)

pants Athleta

Lightweight Pants

Turkey is a fairly conservative country, so best to leave those bootie shorts at home. Loose-fitting pants in a quick-dry material will moderate your temp and prevent unwanted attention.

Athleta ($79)

paragonia Patagonia

Puffy Jacket

The high, dry plateau brings big temperature swings (so check your exact month’s weather before you pack) and nights are almost always chilly. Pack a light puffy jacket for maximum warmth and minimal space in your suitcase.

Patagonia ($199)