Moonscape is the word most used to describe the breathtaking region of Cappadocia in central Turkey, where lava flow from volcanic eruptions created amazing rock formations known as ‘fairy chimneys’. A great way of getting the big picture is to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride and look down on centuries of history.
During medieval times, the valleys provided refuge for Byzantine Christians, reports BBC Travel. Visit their 11th century cave churches and monastic dwellings at the World Heritage site Göreme Open-Air Museum. Many of the frescoes (or rather seccos, as they are painted on dry rather than wet plaster) are absolutely stunning. The Dark Church is a must with multi-coloured angels and scenes from the birth of Christ.
In order to survive the Romans and later raiding Muslims, the Christians constructed a labyrinth of underground cities which housed up to 10,000 people each. With churches with altars and baptism pools, granaries with grindstones, and kitchen ovens they make fascinating viewing.
But it’s not all like something from a Star Wars’ set. The Ihlara Valley is filled with riverside greenery, and the volcanic soil's qualities gave Cappadocia one of the world's oldest wine industries. Sample the Anatolian grape, visit the rock cellars and experience local village life and wonderful hospitality. A number of cave dwellings and fairy-chimney chapels have been converted into boutique hotels, featuring cave hamams (Turkish baths) and terraces with panoramic views.
Turkish Airlines flies from Istanbul to Nevşehir and Kayseri and Pegasus Airlines flies from both Istanbul and Izmir. There’s also a daily overnight bus from Istanbul for the hardy traveller.