ASK MOST TOURISTS in Turkey where they’re headed, and they’ll likely say a resort somewhere on the Marmara, Aegean, Mediterranean, or Black Seas. The country has 5,177 miles of coastline, and its beaches are without question some of the finest in the world. But Turkey is also home to mountains, lakes, and geological splendors that rival any setting of sun and sand.
Here’s a breakdown of the country’s different landscapes and the stunning natural areas they contain — so when someone asks you where you’re headed, you’ll raise a few eyebrows.
Central Anatolia — Cappadocia
Cappadocia is easily Turkey’s best-known natural beauty. The huge, conical “fairy chimneys” — formed as erosion slowly carves the soft, porous volcanic stone — give anyone in their presence the illusion of being on another planet. Not wanting to disrupt the natural beauty of the area, the locals have been carving their homes into this mysterious rock for centuries.
The truly dedicated start their trip at dawn with a hot-air balloon ride over the massive formations, almost always followed by a glass of celebratory champagne. If you prefer to keep your feet firmly on the ground, wander the valleys on foot — there are plenty of easy hikes — or bike through the villages. Though, perhaps the most appropriate way to explore is on horseback, since some believe that “Cappadocia” means “land of the beautiful horses” in ancient Persian.
The hotels in the region are mostly “cave hotels,” with rooms hewn into the porous volcanic rock. Many operate in converted houses dating back centuries, with some even featuring subterranean chapels. The area has a strong Christian history, and a number of underground churches with unexpectedly colorful, frescoed walls are open to the public. What’s more, this terroir has produced excellent wines for millennia, so definitely indulge before you leave.
What you should know: The closest airport is in Nevşehir, about a 30-minute drive away, but there are more frequent flights to Kayseri, an hour away. Most of the hotels are in the town of Göreme, and your hotel or travel agent can book a tour for you. The best time of year to visit is spring, when a layer of flowers carpets the floor and the annual Cappadox festival is held (think outdoor music, art, and food). Summer is the busiest season — and the hottest.