Turkish Delights
Australian House & Garden Magazine|April 2019
Turkish Delights

A hot-air balloon ride reveals the glory of Turkey’s landscape, but it’s off the beaten track and behind closed doors that true beauty is found

Sarah Pickette
Pre-dawn, and all is still. Excitement mounts as it becomes clear that conditions are ideal for rising with the sun and floating over Cappadocia, in central Turkey, in a gaily coloured hot-air balloon.

Our set-up team works in the dark with a quiet industriousness and then, whoosh, a column of flame inflates the balloon envelope and illuminates a group of excited faces. Away we go, soaring serenely above the distinctive landscape that makes this part of Turkey famous. Its bare, cone-shaped rock formations are so otherworldly that the locals, rather charmingly, call them ‘fairy chimneys’.

Cappadocia holds the title of hot-air balloon capital of the world. On a beautiful clear day like this there can be up to 150 balloons aloft in this area. The spectacle of them drifting en masse, lighting up sporadically like enormous lanterns, is absolutely mesmerising.

Later that morning we see the fairy chimneys up close. Even though it’s off-season in Turkey, the busloads keep arriving and, while the landscape is a delight to behold, it’s too busy. Our guide soon senses our need for a little elbow room so we head to Soganli, about an hour’s drive away. We are the only tourists in town and a group of local ladies selling handicrafts rub their hands in glee as we approach.

Kitted out in our new nanna-knitted gloves and scarves, we take a short walk to Kubbeli Kilise, or the Church of the Dome. It was carved into a single fairy chimney by Byzantine monks between the 9th and 13th centuries. And we’re the only people here.

I’m very much enjoying the gratification that comes from feeling like I’m well off the beaten track and seeing Turkey from a different angle to the average tourist. This sensation, I discover, is one of the perks of signing up for a small-group tour.

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April 2019