Rock hewn structures, pottery and balloon trips are only a part of the region's irresistible lure. You are left wondering that Turkey, the gateway to Europe, has so much to offer beyond Istanbul and its coastline.

A convenient morning flight that stays afloat in air for about an hour takes you from Istanbul to the Cappadocia region — an enchanting mix of natural wonders and elegance.

The sheer vastness, open spaces, ancient fairy chimneys, volcanic soil and rock hewn structures dotting the landscape leaves a visitor awestruck. You are left wondering that Turkey, the gateway to Europe, has so much to offer beyond Istanbul and its coastline.

About 25 million years ago, volcanoes of Erciyes, Hasandag and Melendiz mountains erupted and covered Cappadocia with a layer of tuff. Over millennia, this tuff layer gradually wore off and produced formations that has inspired cave art in this region. Kizilirmak river and its streams, cut deep into the tuff plateau and give a different, red colour to the soil. Cappadocia in Persian means the Land of Beautiful Horse. It is in the region that pottery began in the Neolithic age and around 2000 BC, the Assyrians of Mesopotamia brought the skills of terracotta pot making to their trading partners, the Hittites and it has continued till date. The most well- known terracotta pottery producing town of Cappadocia is Avanos where volcanic soil and silt carried by Kizilirmak and good quality clay deposits make it the most appropriate place for ceramic production.

Like pottery , carpet weaving has also been continuing in Cappadocia since the Byzantine period (397 A D to 1071 A D). It is more common in Urgup and Avanos and you find local as well as carpets of other regions in shops, offering a variety of Turkish carpets.

Early inhabitants

The earliest human settlements in Cappadocia date to the Palaeolithic period and the written history of the region goes back to Hittites. The early Hattian settlers were followed by the empires of Hittite, Phrygian, Persia, Roman, Byzantine , Seljuk and Ottoman and each left its mark on the landscape of Cappadocia.

Cappadocia served as an important trading post and bridge between various lands of the Silk Route . We visited one of the subterranean settlements at Kaymakli which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985.

“The region has about 300 underground settlements of which only about 10 are known,” our guide Derya informs us. As we step inside the settlement following red and blue arrows, one could see two levels complete with ventilation shafts, cellars and granaries. Though the deepest part of the settlement is about 80 metres, visitors are allowed only till about 20 metres. These settlements were used for centuries to protect residents from invading armies.

Derya tells us that wind and rainwater flowing down the sides of valleys, over the years, eroded the tuff structure, and sculpted the formations known as “fairy chimneys'' — tall conical rock structures topped with another rock resembling the shape of a hat, a cone or a mushroom.

Indian travellers are slowly waking up to this region. “Last year there were very few Indian families that came here. This year, more than 10 Indian families have stayed in our hotel. One Indian family wanted to head to exotic European destinations but a chance visit brought them to Cappadocia and they were simply mesmerised by the region,'' says Yasemin who manages Argos, a boutique hotel carved out of rock hewn dwellings and has about 30 rooms and suites all made of natural yellow rock stone.

Balloon trips, arranged before the crack of dawn, are a popular adventure here over the past decade as skilled pilots take the balloon to about 3000 feet, offering enchanting bird's-eye view to travellers and the settlements appear washed over by sunshine. You just cannot have enough of Cappadocia, you need to come back for more because the region simply beckons you.