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How to go beyond the clichés in Cappadocia

BY Samia Qaiyum

18th Jan 2023 Travel Guides

How to go beyond the clichés in Cappadocia

Cappadocia is so much more than hot air balloon festivals. From red-tinted valleys to one hair raising museum, we find out what to do in Cappadocia

Few sights on the planet can compete with brightly-coloured hot air balloons—literally hundreds of them—collectively taking flight over the surreal, spectacular landscapes of Cappadocia at sunrise. It's a must on any bucket list. And far from overhyped.

But the average tourist will hightail it out of Cappadocia after climbing out of the woven wicker basket, never taking an additional day or two to indulge in slow travel—much to their detriment.

Here, we remedy that by going beyond the clichés of this fascinating region in Turkey.

The Hair Museum of Avanos

Hair museum in Avanos CappadochiaCredit: Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Let's start with the basics. Cappadocia isn't actually a city, contrary to popular belief. It is a historic region located in Central Anatolia and comprises five provinces: Aksaray, Nevşehir, Niğde, Kayseri, and Kırşehir.

You'll likely stay in Göreme, a town in Nevşehir and the hub of all things tourism, but a day trip to nearby Avanos comes highly recommended.

Anchored in the art of pottery, it's located on the aptly named Red River, where the red clay deposits that lie on its banks have been used to make household products since the Hittite period.

As a result, Avanos is home to countless pottery stores, but one in particular has earned fame for what resides in its basement: a full-fledged hair museum.

"A friend of his snipped off a lock of her hair as a memento when she was leaving Avanos"

Not for the squeamish, the Hair Museum of Avanos is located within Chez Galip and was founded by ceramic artist Galip Körükçü practically by accident.

A friend of his snipped off a lock of her hair as a memento when she was leaving Avanos—this was back in 1979.

Other female visitors at the shop followed suit, with the hair of an estimated five million women from around the world now adorning every last inch of this subterranean space, ceilings included.

As for Galip's stance on collecting the hair of men? No, thank you.

Soğanlı dolls

Traditional Cappadocia Soganli doll in Turkish dressSoğanlı dolls come adorned in traditional dresses

The streets of Cappadocia are full of souvenir stores riddled with kitsch—think fridge magnets and miniature hot air balloons. Admittedly, they're cheap and easier to pack than pottery and carpets, but resist the urge to impulse buy.

Your cash can be better spent at Melih’s Gourds (intricately carved lamps made using dried gourds), Sultan’s Charm (organic soaps and luxe hammam products), and Yastik’s (cushions accented with cultural references)—all of which are located in Göreme.

"A woman in the village of Soğanlı was grieving the death of her child and made a rag doll of sorts"

For a souvenir that screams Cappadocia, albeit with a backstory that's still under debate, opt for a Soğanlı doll.

Legend has it that the first of its kind was made many decades ago, when a woman in the village of Soğanlı was grieving the death of her child and made a rag doll of sorts in search of some respite.

Today, these handmade trinkets adorned in traditional clothing are in such demand that entire families in Soğanlı are able to make a living off them, making them a souvenir that gives back.

Love Valley

Taking a slower approach in Cappadocia allows for the opportunity to explore its truly otherworldly valleys.

Case in point: Love Valley. Situated just outside of Göreme, it is home to phallic-shaped pillars that many assume are manmade monuments designed to pay homage to male fertility—when in fact years of wind, water, and volcanic activity are the culprits.

While you can book a jeep safari to visit several valleys in one go (off-roading in Cappadocia is an adventure in itself), renting a scooter or an ATV are also options. A bonus is that the viewpoint above the valley is devoid of crowds.

A woman's touch

Beyond the tourist trail is Kadıneli, a stylish little restaurant run by a women's cooperative and rooted in home-style cuisine.

Located in the town of Uçhisar, its name translates to “woman’s hand”, and there's plenty of those behind the scenes. All the employees, from the cooks and dishwashers to the hostess and waitresses, are women. Brave women.

"Located in the town of Uçhisar, its name translates to 'woman’s hand'"

This NGO may have been formed in order to create employment opportunities for the fairer sex, but Kadıneli actually faced backlash when it opened in 2015. Traditional gender roles are alive and well in Anatolia, so the idea of husbands watching the kids while the wives go off to work was practically unheard of.

Admittedly, the menu is limited, but this is a spot where quality trumps quantity. The homemade manti—a Turkish take on dumplings—is a must-order.

Walk this way

Red valley or sunset point at Cappadocia, Anatolia, TurkeyRed Valley is renowned for its crimson rocks and sunsets

Between its famed rock formations, abandoned cave dwellings, and trails of varying difficulty, Cappadocia is an ideal destination for hiking enthusiasts.

Red Valley is rated highly for its crimson hue and sunset spots, while Pigeon Valley conveniently connects the towns of Göreme and Uçhisar. None, however, are as unique as Moonlight Cappadocia.

Hosted by Uzunetap, this three-hour guided hike through Rose Valley is illuminated by—you guessed it—moonlight and held monthly on the night of the full moon between April and October.

Along the way, you'll pause for freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, crawl into Crusader Church to view the ceiling fresco, and even attend a candlelit musical performance in an ancient cave church with soaring columns.

As for the nocturnal perspective of all those fairy chimneys? Magical.

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