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Cappadocia

Cappadocia is a stunning area of Central Turkey famed for its other-worldly rock formations, subterranean churches and underground dwellings, the scale of which is over-whelming. Some 30 million years ago, a series of volcanoes erupted in this area, the largest of which was the now extinct Mount Erciyes, one of the highest in Turkey at 3916 metres. They spewed lava and volcanic ash over the landscape which, as it solidified, turned into a soft stone known as tuff. Tuff is easily eroded by the elements, and over millions of years, the wind and the rain have formed the strange rock shapes which can be seen today. Man has added to the work of nature, the softness of the tuff allowing it to be easily carved out and excavated to form subterranean dwellings and troglodyte villages, as well as underground churches. The area of Cappadocia is also famous for its carpet-weaving, wine and the distinctive red pottery of the Avanos area.

Cappadocia was a refuge for the early Christians, who escaped persecution by living and worshipping underground. There are an estimated 3000 rock churches in this region, not all of which are open to the public. Some have amazing frescoes, which have been extremely well preserved.

Highlights:

Göreme

Some of the most impressive of the churches are located in the Göreme Open Air Museum, which, for the most part, date from the 9th-11th centuries. The village of Göreme itself is at the heart of the area’s tourist industry, and many of its villagers still live in cave dwellings, some of which have been converted into pensions. Surrounding the area are the amazing rock formations known evocatively as Peri Bacaları or ‘Fairy Chimneys’. For panoramic views over the scenery of the Göreme Valley, visit the citadel of Üçhisar, the huge rock tower, which is the highest point in the area. Üçhisar and Ürgüp are two of the most popular places to stay in the area, where in recent years, a number of chic boutique hotels have opened in the old buildings and rock dwellings.

Ihlara Vadisi

Located to the west of Niğde, this stunning gorge is 10 kms long and some 80 metres wide. Popular for trekking it is home to over 60 churches, the majority of which were built in the 11th century. Most of these are not open to the public but of the 12 or so which are, some of the most important are the Eğritas Kilesesi.

Underground Cities

There are hundreds of underground cities in the regions. Two of the most impressive are Kaymaklı, which has 8 levels, and Derinkuyu, which reaches down to 55 metres. They were used by the Christians fleeing persecution in the 7th century, who created a self-sufficient environment, underground, including bedrooms, kitchens and storage rooms.  

Other highlights of a visit to the area include the picturesque Soğanlı, Valley, which is much quieter than the other sights, with its many houses, tombs and churches, displaying excellent examples of Byzantine painting.

Horse-riding is a popular way to explore this region and a hot air balloon ride over the surreal landscape will prove to be a unique experience.
 

Hattusas, Catalhoyuk

 

Nevsehir

A regional transport hub and provincial town for the surrounding area. It's close enough to the sites of Cappadocia to make it practical as a base from which to tour, but it doesn't have the same 'charm' as the smaller Cappadocian towns and villages. Useful place to find buses and any bus coming from the west will stop here on the way through. The city is about 30 km to Tuzkoy airport and 100 km to Kayseri airport. It's 1150 meters above sea level, experience a Continental climate, has a population of 310.000, and an area of 5.467 square km.

Hotels and Pansiyons are plentiful here but the size of the place makes it a little tricky to get around without your own transport. It's useful to know that you can find services here that aren't available in the wilds of the interior but with any luck you won't need them.

It does have a decent archaeological and ethnographical museum with Byzantine, Hittite, Roman and Ottoman artifacts and a couple of interesting mosques that are worth a visit if you are here for the day.

Ortahisar

Ortahisar, meaning middle fortress in Turkish, is 6 km from Ürgüp and about 10 km from Nevsehir city center. The village is at 1200 meters above sea level with about 4,000 inhabitants, and its name is coming from a massive 90 meter high rock, similar to Uçhisar. This rock was used for many centuries since the Hittite period as a castle to protect local inhabitants from invaders and to scout the region. There are many rooms and tunnels inside, and the top is accessible by a staircase. Once you get on top, there is a breathtaking view of Cappadocia and the Erciyes mountain at the background. Carved tuff rooms around the village are used as a natural cool depot to store citrus, apple, potatoes etc. The village is surrounded by vineyards as well.

Besides this castle-rock, there are several churches in and around Ortahisar from early Christians; Sarica church, Kepez church, Pancarlik church, Tavsanli church, Cambazli church, Balkan stream church, Hallac dere hospital and monastic complex, and Uzumlu church in Kuzulcukur area. These are all Turkish names given by the local people, not their original names.

There is a private Ethnography museum in Ortahisar, recently opened in 2004 and showing examples from the daily village life, agriculture, kitchen, carpet weaving, Hammam, Henna night and marriage. It also has a cafeteria and a restaurant to relax and enjoy the local food.

Ürgüp

The unfortunately named Ürgüp is probably the busiest of the small towns in the vicinity of the Cappadocian sites. It's possibly the tastiest as well, recent development has mushroomed leaving a grim legacy of poorly designed and serviced buildings. The road down into the town however does take you past some pleasant rock carved dwellings, accommodation and restaurants. It's worth wondering around the old town for a taste of what the place must have been like before we all arrived.

This said it does offer services, such as banking, which are a little scarce elsewhere. It has a scattering of hotels and pensions of varying degrees of sophistication and a couple of good places to eat. The town has also a certain night life with small bars and discos.

Avanos

Avanos is set on the banks of the Kizilirmak, the Red River, which gets its name from the clay that it deposits. This clay has provided Avanos with pottery for centuries and the town is still dominated by this industry despite the inroads that tourism has made in the area. The main street has numerous shops and workshops selling plain and decorated pots and plates and you can watch the potters at work using kick wheels, the design of which has remained unchanged for generations. Many of the workshops will encourage you to have a go yourself. It's harder than it looks.

Avanos is a possible base for exploring Cappadocia with accommodation and services available at reasonable rates. The town has retained some of its charm and is a pleasant place to spend half a day or to stop for lunch. The town has a tourist targeted Hammam (Turkish bath) which is popular with tour groups and is also close to the Selcuk built Yellow Caravanserai, a restored Han (travelers 'service station'), and the Özkonak Underground city, a smaller version of those at Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.

Today Avanos is also famous for its carpets and textile.

Uçhisar

If you're not looking for a party Uçhisar makes an excellent base from which to explore the unique Cappadocian landscape. It's a sleepy little town, less dominated by the tourist trade than Göreme or Avanos and with an atmosphere that can fool you into thinking you're in Turkey in the late 70's rather than the late 90's.

There are some pleasant mid-range and cheap hotels and pensions here and food is acceptable at several establishments. Uçhisar's Kale or fortress is visible for miles around and has become the town's major tourist attraction, offering, as it does, fine views over the surrounding countryside.

Uçhisar is also a good place to begin a walking tour from because it's down hill in every direction and because you can take in Pigeon Valley, named for it's myriad nesting holes carved to encourage said birds.

Aksaray

Aksaray is a center in Cappadocia, in the Central Anatolian region. The province has many things to show in addition to wonderful surroundings. There are important historical buildings from Seljuk times, mostly from the 14th century, such as the Ulu Mosque and the Kizil (Egri) Minaret. The brickwork of the Kizil Minaret is elaborate. The Sultanhan caravanserai built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat is well-preserved, and the Agzikarahan caravanserai is the second important and famous monument from the Seljuk period, both built on the Silk Road.

Aksaray possesses the most frequently visited regions of Cappadocia, all of display which natural beauties mingled with the mysticism of history. Viransehir (Nora), which was the military center of Byzantines and Romans because of its strategic position, carries historical remains from Roman and Byzantine times. Ihlara is a 14 kms long fascinating canyon, formed by the Melendiz River. In this valley can be found Byzantine rock chapels used by the early Christians, similar to the ones at Göreme valley, cut into the canyon walls and decorated with frescoes. From these chapels the Agacalti (Daniel) Church, the Yilanli (Apocalypse) Church, the Sümbüllü (Hyacinth) Church, the Purenliseki Church, and St. Georges Church are the most interesting ones. In the Güzelyurt valley, there are dwellings from the prehistoric periods and they are in an underground city form. In addition to these there are chapels and buildings carved into the rock. The Manastir valley, and the Sivisli Church which is one of the most interesting churches in the area, are the other attractive places.

One of the most spectacular views in Aksaray is the Hasan mountain, an ancient volcano, rising from the flatlands of Anatolia and touching some 3,200m (10,000 feet approximately). It is a great spot for mountain sports fans such as climbers and trekkers.

Accompanying these you will also find guest houses, restaurants and good hotels in the region. Many tours for Cappadocia passes by Aksaray.

Kayseri

West of Cappadocia, over the mountains in central Anatolia, lies Kayseri, known as Caesarea in Roman times. The city spreads out at the foot of the extinct volcano Mt. Erciyes (3,916 meters). In the winter months the ski center has excellent runs for downhill skiers, and several pleasant hotels cater particularly to skiers.

Close to the Byzantine fortress, the 13th century Huant Hatun Mosque and Medrese, with the Mahperi Hatun Mausoleum, comprise the first Seljuk complex, the Huant Hatun Complex, in Anatolia. The Medrese is now an Ethnography Museum. South of the complex, stands the beautifully decorated Döner Kümbet of 1276, a Seljuk mausoleum of classic simplicity. A major Seljuk city, Kayseri was an important center of learning and consequently, there are many medreses (theological schools) among the remaining historical buildings. Those interested in the Seljuk architectural form should see the Çifte (Giyasiye and Sifahiye) Medrese, the first Seljuk school of anatomy, and one which today is now the Gevher Nesibe Medical History Museum. And nearby is the lovely Sahabiye Medrese. Near the city's bedesten (market hall) is the restored 12th century Ulu Mosque. The Haci Kilic Mosque north of the Çifte (twin) Medrese dates from 1249. In the Cumhuriyet (Republic) quarter, the 19th century Resit Aga Mansion houses the Atatürk Museum which displays Atatürk's personal belongings. Across from the Atatürk Museum, the historical Gupgupoglu Mansion is now an Ethnography Museum.

South of Kayseri, in Develi, stand three more important Seljuk buildings: the Ulu Mosque, the Seyid-i Serif Tomb and the Develi Tomb. Nearby, the Sultan Marshes, the habitat of many bird-species, are of interest both to ornithologists and nature lovers.

North of Kayseri, Kültepe, known in ancient times as Kanesh or Karum, was one of the earliest Assyrian and Hittite commercial cities Dating from 2000 B.C, Kültepe was also one of the world's first cities of free trade. Today, however, only the foundations remain. Many of the findings can be examined in the Kayseri Archaeological Museum or Ankara Anatolian Civilizations Museum.

On the same road is Sultanhan, a caravanserai built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat in the early 13th century and a favorite stop for tourists.

Caesarea was also an important city of Christianity in the early years of Byzantine Empire. One can remember bishop Basil the Great from 4th century who traveled in Cappadocia as well to organize early Christian communities.

Karpuzbasi Waterfall is 76 km south from Kayseri. In this beautiful natural site, seven different springs on the mountainside fall from heights ranging between 30 and 70 meters.

Kayseri is one of the most important carpet and kilim production centers in Anatolia. Bünyan is the most famous carpet production center and Yahyali is the most famous kilim production center. Rugs woven in finely knotted floral patterns continue a centuries-old tradition.

Erciyes Mountain

Near the town of Kayseri lies the extinct volcano Mt. Erciyes (3,916 meters). In the winter months the ski center has excellent runs for downhill skiers, and several pleasant hotels cater particularly to skiers.