Drop Dead Gorges
Ihlara, Cappadocia, Turkey Oct 2020
Grateful for once that we’d chosen Dan as our nominated driver, we wound our way down the narrow lanes in our rented car and set off for a road trip to the Ihlara Valley. My impression of Turkey as a cultured but economically underdeveloped country was quickly dispelled as we passed factories and towns which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Western Europe.
The modern, well maintained roads (UK take note!) led us to a quick stop off at the extraordinary Selime Monastery –a cathedral size church cut into the tuff with imposing views over the valley.
We reached our final destination, the Belisirma Restaurant on the banks of the Melendiz River, and settled down amongst the comfy cushions perched on the wooden platforms built over the water.
A more picturesque lunch setting would be hard to imagine, and feeling fortified we set off on our hike along the gorge, accompanied yet again by another friendly dog! A flat and thankfully shady trail followed the river, winding through the steep limestone cliffs which boasted several dozen cave churches.
The following day we headed off to visit the Kaymakli Underground Village, one of several in the area built around 2000 BC to protect the local population from marauding invaders but now attracted marauding tourists. These fascinating subterranean chambers cover over 8 floors although only 4 are currently open to the public. With an ingenious ventilation system which also served as a dumbwaiter, the hundreds of rooms were used as living quarters, churches, stables and even sections for wine making and storage (they got their priorities right!). Bent double, we navigated the narrow tunnels with our guide, feeling thankful that the usual hordes of Chinese tourists had been vanquished for the time being.
On the route back, we passed by several “Star Wars” themed roadside eateries and discovered that this area was earmarked to be one of the filming locations of the epic sci-fi series. Apparently George Lucas was deterred by the Turkish Government who were anxious that the impending Kurdish civil unrest might cause security risks. I’m sure Darth Vader and a few of his Storm Troopers could have sorted them out!
Stopping off for a quick spot of wine tasting at the strangely named Kocabag Winery and a pleasant lunch overlooking Pigeon Valley, we returned to the hotel for a rest before our last hike of the holiday.
We’d covered most of the valleys in the area by quad bike, car and balloon, so for a final treat we decided to tackle the trek from the romantically named Sunset Point down to Red Valley. Ian was all hiked out, so we left him with a beer on the overlook and set off on the erratically signposted trail.
The views (and the climbs) were again breath-taking, even if the path itself was treacherous to say the least. Even wearing walking boots, we slipped down steep and narrow gravel tracks on our descent. We were contemplating how difficult it might be to summon assistance in this remote area should we find ourselves in difficulty, when we turned a corner to find a café built under a nearby overhang! A horse-riding group were sitting around drinking tea and taking in the scenery.
Hoping to make it back to the Viewpoint (which was always in our view!) in time for sunset, we were frustrated by the copious dips and climbs that blocked our route. Little did we know that Ian had been enjoying watching our efforts from his comfortable seat in the café. We finally, and triumphantly, navigated our way back before dark, having witnessed the sun setting from a slightly different, albeit still incredibly beautiful perspective.
For our last evening in Göreme, we’d booked a restaurant that specialised in a method of slow cooking meat and vegetables in clay pots. I’m not sure how “Testi” got its name – hopefully not a reference to the cut of meat used in the stew! These were brought to the table on a flaming grill and Dan was invited to smash the pot using a small axe. As dangerous as this sounds, he managed to slice the top of the pots off like a ninja and by all accounts the contents were delicious!