Balloons dominate the sky during early morning flights over Goreme. Picture: Ray Wilson

Most tourists start with a glowing description of the balloon ride when they talk about Cappadocia, a district in the middle of the Anatolia region in Turkey which features such weird landscapes you half expect Mary Poppins or Fred Flintstone to pop up around the next fairy chimney.

I'll finish with the balloon ride but a two-day wait for light winds (under 15km/h) provided time to gain a greater appreciation of the rich history of the region around the tourist hotspot of Goreme, one of the small towns in Cappadocia, an hour's flight from Istanbul and another hour's bus ride from the major hubs of Kayseri or Nevsehir.

While the lure of the tourist dollar sometimes mess with the character of some locals, it hasn't affected the environs.

The land around Goreme and neighbouring towns such as Uchisar and Urgup was shaped 10 million years ago by volcanic eruptions which covered the area with lava, and over the centuries has seen nature at play.

Massive valleys and gorges are carved through the land and big puffs of meringue-like forms cling to steep rock faces. But the most celebrated legacy of the eruptions are big fairy chimneys where most local people once lived, and also where pigeons roosted to provide fertiliser for agriculture, and still do.

Few people now live in the imposing rock formations and caves, having sold out for hotels to be built. Goreme, for example, predominately consists of tourism businesses, with locals moving to neighbouring areas.

While there are numerous guided tours around the district, the best includes an hour inside an underground city (they are still being discovered) built 3000 years ago to keep locals safe from invaders.

We found a self-guided 2.5km walk through the Pigeon Valley from Goreme to Uchisar, which was not only visually captivating but also provided some treasured moments.

Uchisar Castle is the highest point of the landscape and is breathtaking in more ways than one - there are 120 steps to negotiate before your heart and lungs threaten to mutiny. The view is intoxicating.

The fascination of exploring in foreign lands is not knowing what lies around the next corner. This was one of those moments. Stumbling down one cobblestone street, my wife Leonie pointed out an ass (not what you're thinking) with its hairy head poking out from a hole in the base of a wall alongside the footpath.

It was obviously stabled under a house and had the reach to manoeuvre its head through the hole to nose around for some loose hay on the edge of the road.

That was weird but the multi-award-winning Museum Hotel was wonderful. We sought refuge from light rain in the hotel, which was built by noted Turkish businessman and antique collector Omer Tosun, who has some rare historical pieces, not the least some fabulous old wirelesses, a gramophone, weapons of war and tribal dresses dating back centuries.

If, by chance you get to have an apple tea ($5 for two) on the hotel's terrace, with its panoramic views, be sure to check on the Alsatian, Jo, who was curled up beneath the hearth of a fireplace in the lobby.

Then it got weird again. Venturing off the beaten track on our way back to Goreme we had taken a wrong turn when we came across an old con man with a dreadful act.

The previous day, Leonie and I had met Iman, sitting atop one of the rock faces overlooking Goreme, strumming a Turkish baglama.

Iman, who recently completed a fine arts degree in India, had told us the Australian authorities granted him refugee status and he was bound for Melbourne, leaving his family who had moved from Iran to settle in Goreme.

But old Ali was very much part of these parts and looked as though he had been carved from the landscape with his weather-beaten face as eroded as the canyons. For Leonie and me, he will forever be named Ali Baba.

With broken English, the 67-year-old offered to lead us from the lost valley to the main path back to Goreme, but it came with a cock-and-bull story about his daughter, who he claimed was due to give birth in Istanbul, and how he needed $100 for the bus fare to be by her side. Sure Ali! We gave him $20 for the tour, the sheer audacity of his hard-luck story and the commentary about the almond, apricot, mulberry and pear trees which grow wild in the valley.

Now, to the balloons which, despite the unqualified beauty of the landscape, remain the money shot in Cappadocia.

Our $2000 package from Istanbul included return flights (and then another to Antalya), six nights with breakfast at the Mystic Cave hotel, balloon ride and two other tours. An hour's balloon ride, soon after dawn, should cost between $150 and $220 per person depending on the size of the basket (ours carried 10 people plus the pilot) and the experience of the pilot. Money is returned if a flight can't be organised due to the weather conditions.

We opted for a tour operated by Erdal Yaris of Turkiye Balloons, a company formed in July last year by four balloon pilots who are also instructors. Everything was perfect as the balloon glided up to 700m, the silence broken only by the gusts of gas from four burners intermittently blasted into the balloon. For the most part, it was silent, stunning and exhilarating - as soon as the teeth unclenched.

With 1700 flights under his belt, Erdal has a sense of humour honed, he said, by once working with an Australian balloon pilot.

There were few smiles but much amazement and relief when he pulled on the ropes to provide clearance by a few metres from a huge rock face.

His tour de force, though, was landing the balloon basket, with the help of his ground handlers, on to a trailer for the journey back to base camp.

Iman, Ali, the ass, the Museum Hotel and the underground city tour provided a great diversionary package, but nothing beat the balloon ride.

The West Australian

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