My parents recently returned from a touring holiday in Turkey and the highlight of their trip was a hot air balloon flight over the rocky landcape of Cappadocia.
This area of Turkey is known for the volcanic rocks which have been eroded over the centuries into strangely shaped pillars known as fairy chimneys and carved out by the local people for their homes and churches. The early Christians hid here from Roman persecution, creating underground complexes and refuges in the hidden valleys and gorges. You can visit underground cave cities at Kaymakli and Derinkuyu and some of the old cave houses have even been restored as hotels.
Normally the balloon experience starts at 5.30am when you are collected, bleary-eyed from your hotel, arriving at the launch site as dawn breaks, to be offered a warming cup of coffee. The crew unload the basket and balloon canopy which is inflated with a giant hot air fan. As the balloon launches gently and drifts silently across the countryside, you will see other balloons rising from behind the rock pinacles and filling the sky. The pilots navigate the balloon by making use of the wind and air currents and adjusting the height with the burner. One minute you can practically taste the apricots on the trees, the next they’re just a speck on the ground.
After an hour or more, the balloon descends to a plateau where the ground crew, who have been tracking its progress, race up to grab the basket and pull it down to earth with barely a bump. The bubbly is cracked open, photographs are taken and certificates liberally handed out to commemorate the flight.
The experience of drifting over this landscape in a hot air balloon is not cheap, costing between €160 and €250 per person, but my parents assured me it was worth every penny. Travelling in Turkey is inexpensive so maybe you can splurge once on your trip to give yourself this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
There are many different companies around Goreme and Urgup offering the balloon rides. For more information you can check out the websites of local operators such as Kapadokya Balloons and Goreme Balloons based in Goreme, or Ez Air Balloons based in Urgup.
If you enjoy reading about places you plan to visit, you might like to try the detective novel Dance with Death set in Cappadocia, by Barbara Nadel from her Inspector Ikman series.