A Balloonist’s View of Cappadocia
Just after sunrise the ground crew cut loose the ties of our 90-foot high balloon over Cappadocia.
Images by Alison Gardner, Editor, Travel with a Challenge web magazine
Cappadocia, the “Land of Beautiful Horses”, is pretty much in the centre of Turkey, a very long day’s drive southeast from Istanbul. It is high on a central Turkey plateau about 1,200 metres or 4,000 feet above sea level. Driving along, the ground suddenly opens and you drop into deep valleys and narrow ravines with natural gray stone fairy chimneys everywhere, nature’s forests of wind- and weather-carved pillars or minarets.
Huge volcanic explosions buried the area in volcanic ash between three and nine million years ago. This laid down a very deep ash layer that gradually compressed to the soft weathered stone that visitors see today. It is stone that allowed ingenous generations of people to create comfortable homes from the rock itself.
A Cappadocia village as a bird of prey or a silent, beautiful balloon sees it.
What adds to the intrigue of such a startling natural landscape is the continuous human settlement of the region as a layered highway of history from the Bronze Age starting around 600 BC through the Greeks, Romans, the early Christians fleeing Roman persecution, the various Barbarian waves galloping out of the east, and the Ottoman Turkish Empire until the end of World War I. In 1985, the United Nations honored this memorable geographic and historic region by naming it a protected World Heritage Site.
Cappadocia ravines are deep enough to swallow a nine-storey balloon.
Volcanic rock condos were once homes to extended families.
Now that you’ve seen the images, please click on this hotlink to read the adventure story of my entertaining, educational balloon ride — the perfect introduction to ballooning and to Cappadocia’s unique history and geology.
You may well imagine that these easily-chiselled rocks were just too tempting to leave alone in a land with few other building materials, and over the centuries they were transformed into the houses, temples, churches, and in numerous times of persecution and conquering, long term hideouts for the local residents.
While touring the many excavated areas, you may explore towns between 2,000 and 1500 years old that are built completely underground. These could safely, if not entirely comfortably, house 5,000 people for up to six months as well as animals, food and all necessary supplies. It makes you feel humble!
Only the finest balloon pilots in the world dare to test their skill so deeply into the sculpured landscape of Cappadocia and its fairy chimneys. I was fortunate to travel with two such pilots in Cappadocia.
While skimming the edge of a ravine, an excited tourist raced along below the basket, asking to hitch a ride.
Ballooning is not inexpensive so I don’t recommend it lightly. However, in all my travels worldwide, Cappadocia is truly a place I have felt that a ballooning experience is a huge bonus to appreciating the unique landscape and this ancient crossroads of east-meets-west human history. In addition, some of the finest photo ops in the world open before you, as you soar and swoop like the proverbial eagle in such spell-binding silence. You will want to take more photos than you can imagine in such a short space of time, so go prepared.
In this deeply scored landscape, light and shadows change in a matter of minutes.
Cappadocia’s main ballooning season runs from April 1 to the end of November, For the 3 to 4 hour experience, including 1 ½ to 2 hours in the air, the fee is 250 Euros [approx. US$390]. During the winter months, Kapadokya Balloons Goreme continues to offer a one-hour flight experience for 175 Euros.
Kapadokya Balloons Goreme
We also recommend an entertaining account of the author’s first balloon ride during an ElderTreks tour of Turkey: www.eldertreks.com.
In July 2008, her return trip to Cappadocia and her second balloon ride on a beautiful summer morning demonstrated that “you can go back again”, and make a wonderful experience even better!
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching alternative vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women travelers of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge Web magazine.