Cappadocia is an ancient Christian kingdom, about 100 mi/160 km southeast of Ankara in central Turkey. It sits within an eerie, surrealistic landscape of pinnacles, ravines and carved-rock dwellings, and it's one of the most fascinating places in Turkey. Caves in the region were used as shelters and still contain marvelous frescoes.

Cappadocia encompasses the area bordered by the towns of Avanos on the north, Kayseri on the east, Aksaray on the west and Nigde on the south.

About 15 mi/22 km south of Nevsehir are the underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Spiraling downward for as many as seven stories, these cities housed tens of thousands of people. Essential elements of aboveground civilization, such as the ability to make wine, were retained by the ingenious underground inhabitants.

The Goreme Valley, east of Nevsehir, has churches that were carved out of the rock and decorated with magnificent frescoes, many concentrated within the Goreme Open-Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Even though many of the frescoes have been severely defaced by vandals, it's still one of the major sights of Turkey.) The fascinating Zelve Valley (north of Goreme Valley) has a multilevel monastery and churches carved inside columns of rock (called tuff) that were formed by volcanic ash.

If you're traveling independently, we suggest staying in the centrally located town of Urgup or the villages of Goreme or Uchisar. Allow several days to see the area (be sure to take good walking shoes). Also nearby is the very scenic Ihlara Valley, which has yet more churches with frescoes. Hot-air balloon tours over the area's surreal landscape are wildly popular, if a bit on the pricey side; they generally run early April-late November.

Many travelers visit Cappadocia as part of a larger tour of western Turkey, often supplementing the inter-city bus system with a series of one-way flights.

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