According to hot-air ballooning enthusiasts, the top three top ballooning locales in the world are the Loire Valley, Kenya, and Cappadocia, Turkey. Or as our pilot put it, "Chateaux, wild animals, and fairy chimneys."
Located in the ancient region of Central Anatolia, Cappadocia is a topographical wonderland marked by an extraordinary lunar landscape of fairy chimneys. Also known as "hoodoos," the tall spires of rock and minaret-like stone towers were carved by nature into the volcanic lava and ash that shaped the land nearly 65 million years ago.
Ballooning in Cappadocia takes place in the early hours of day, just before sunrise, which makes for splendid aerial photographs one thousand feet above ground.
As you lift into the sky, you sail over deep canyons and a panorama of 6th century monasteries and churches, cave dwellings, and stone mansions, all connected by a labyrinth of tunnels.
Sailing in an open basket that holds a maximum of 20 people, it’s possible that you’ll think anew of the Wizard – and understand the joys of floating over Oz.
As our pilot explained with a smirk, one entire gorge is known to the locals as “Love Valley” specifically because of its uncanny resemblance to a canyon of tumescence.
Cappadocia, which means “land of the beautiful horses” in Persian, is an easy hour-long flight from Istanbul to Nevsehir. Rising on the horizon, the snow-capped Mount Erciyes (or Argaeos to the Greeks), is a beacon of white in a spectacular landscape. From the mountain’s summit, it’s possible to see both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
Royal Balloon offers a buffet breakfast, as well as a champagne toast at the 60-minute ride’s conclusion. Pilots at Royal are some of the most experienced (and friendly) in all of Cappadocia, which is perhaps one good reason why Royal Balloon is the top-rated balloon company on Trip Advisor.
Apart from ballooning, tourists making the trek to Cappadocia explore open-air museums that feature rock-hewn chapels, monasteries, and pigeon houses. More than forty underground cities from the Bronze Age have been identified, including one where thousands of Christians hid from the Romans on seven subterranean levels. Thermal springs in the lake region of Acigol are heralded for their salutary impact on skin conditions and eye problems.
Thanks to the mineral-rich volcanic soil and the plethora of caves serving as wine cellars, Cappadocia has become Turkey’s primary winemaking region. Wine tasting tours reveal wines that reveal a pleasing complexity befitting their provenance: Cappadocia has been making wine since at least 4000 B.C. and, according to Herodotus, Bacchus was born in western Turkey.
A center of terra cotta art since 2,000 BC, Cappadocia has a deep and abiding appreciation for craftsmanship. Pottery workshops alongside a master potter heighten your appreciation for the ancient artifacts you glimpse in niches throughout the region.
If you hike up Uchisar Castle at gloaming, you’ll find yourself waiting for the sunset with dozens of locals and tourists. An incredible vista of peaks, cones, and obelisks dot the foreground, with Mount Erciyes in the distance, and when the sun slips below the horizon, igniting the sky with streaks of orange, the crowd cheers.
Before you descend from atop the citadel, pause and gaze over Pigeon Valley at the monumental landscape produced by the three distant volcanic mountains. You are standing at the highest point in Cappadocia. It’s no wonder that the ancient monks were awed into a state of reverence.