Cappadocia

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This bizarre, other-worldly region was almost the setting for George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode 1: the Phantom Menace and it’s easy to see why. The region is defined for its natural “chimneys,” rock structures that jut out of the stark landscape in a striking and colourful manner.

The formations were created millions of years ago: volcanoes first deposited layers of ash and tufa, which were then eroded into these strikingly phallic shapes. The region is made up of the triangle of land between the towns of Aksaray, Kayseri and Nigde. The area is largely empty and isn’t strategically located, so it was never very interesting to conquering civilizations.

 Because of its isolation, though, it made a nice hideout for early Christians escaping persecution and looking to establish early colonies. The village of Goreme harkens back to this time, as people here still live in caves. Goreme is home to an open-air museum that protects an ancient monastic settlement made up of the Tokali Church and Karanlik Church.

There’s another such museum near Avanos, and it marks the site of an abandoned village. The area is full of early Christian history, monasteries, cave dwellings, and over 30 underground cities, the best of which are Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Early Christians carved chapels out of existing cavities in the chimneys, and they’ve been protected from the elements for centuries.

 The frescos inside these churches are almost as impressive as the architecture, which is cut out of the stone. The region, though it appears barren, is actually very fertile, so it’s home to numerous vineyards. Cappadocia has actually gained quite a reputation for its local wines (most wineries welcome drop-ins for a tasting). Another point of interest is Uchisar, where you can climb to the top of a rock and look out over the landscape.

The Ihlara Valley and Kizil Valley are well known as nice hiking spots. There’s also hot air balloon rides, rafting trips, and skiing available in the region.