Southeast of Ankara, Cappadocia is a spectacular, almost surreal landscape of rock and cones, capped pinnacles and fretted ravines. Dwellings have been hewn from the soft, volcanic rock since 400 BC, and the elaborate cave systems have sheltered generations of persecuted settlers.
Today, it is a fascinating mix of truly magnificent scenery (as beautiful in the winter snow as in summer), an excellent destination for outdoor activities from mountain biking and hiking to hot-air ballooning, and one of the most compelling historic and artistic regions in this culturally rich country. Many people still live, at least partially, in cave dwellings and in the main tourist centres, there are several charming small hotels with cave rooms. The main towns in the region are Nevsehir and Urgup. Göreme is probably the biggest attraction, with over 30 magnificently frescoed Byzantine rock churches open to the public. Zelve has a huge, somewhat eerie underground monastic complex. The villages of Ortahisar and Uchisar, clustered around rock pinnacles and crowned by citadels, offer excellent views. There are over 400 underground cities in the area; two of the biggest and most exciting are Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, with up to eight floors and complex systems of apartments, public rooms and streets that could house literally hundreds of people. In the northern part of the area, Avanos is a pretty little town with a thriving local ceramics industry. A short distance west of the main area of Cappadocia, the 10km- (6 mile-) long Ihlara Canyon is another Byzantine religious hideout, with around 60 churches, many of them still painted, carved into the walls of an idyllic green Shangri La.