The first thing any visitor to Cappadocia needs to decide is where to base themselves. Goreme and Uçhisar are the two places that always come top of the list, although it is perhaps a little unfair to compare them since they’re both very different. One is a town, the other a village for a start. But I’m going to do it anyway. So which is best for you, Goreme or Uçhisar?
Before we visited Cappadocia I found it almost impossible to decide which would be best for us. Would Goreme be too busy and lack charm, and would Uçhisar be too far away from the action? In the end we divided our time between the two, and it worked perfectly (even if I do say so myself). If however you have less time and prefer to not be constantly on the move (a bit like hubbie, who learnt long ago that he has no choice in the matter), then hopefully the following will help you make up your mind.
TRAVELLING TO CAPPADOCIA
Arriving by Air
There are two airports serving Cappadocia – Kayseri and Nevşehir. You’ll probably hear Kayseri mentioned more, but I really don’t know why. Nevşehir is the better option all round. It’s actually closer (it takes 40 minutes from Nevsehir and 1 hour from Kayseri to both Goreme and Uçhisar), and the airport is much newer and better organised. There are often queues out of the main door but don’t worry, this isn’t for check in, it’s for the first set of security scanners which are located just inside the building. Turkish airports generally have two sets of scanners for extra security. Annoying but reassuring. Everything is pretty relaxed, and you really don’t need to be there more than an hour before your flight. In fact passengers were still turning up as we were boarding and it wasn’t an issue. Turkish Airlines have regular scheduled planes to Nevşehir, and are a much better (and not really any more expensive) alternative to the budget airline Pegasus.
It is cheaper to pre-book your transfer with your hotel before you arrive – it will cost around E80 (Nevşehir) and E100 (Kayseri) if you just hop in the nearest taxi. E10 per person will reserve you a place on the public shuttle bus (generally a huge minibus), or if you want a pre-booked private transfer, expect to pay around E60 – E70 for up to 4/6 people.
During peak season it is worth taking a private transfer, especially if your plane lands late at night, because the bus will stop at several hotels and prolong your journey (unless you’re first on the list!). It’s not worth taking a private transfer during the winter as there are so few people the journey time really isn’t impacted.
Interestingly the Kelebek Cave Hotel where we stayed in Goreme charge E80 for private transfers from Nevşehir in comparison to the Taskonaklar Rocky Palace where we stayed in Uçhisar which only charged E50.
So lets weigh up the options, and work out whether Goreme or Uçhisar is best…
Goreme is superbly located slap bang in the middle of Cappadocia, within easy distance of everything you’ll want to be seeing. I hesitate to use the word ‘hub’ since that conjures up images of big dusty bus stations and lots of traffic, which certainly isn’t the case, but you’d not go far wrong by basing yourself here, especially if you’re relying on public transport. Buses, taxis and tours are all within easy walking distance.
The village is only 5 minutes from Goreme by taxi from but it’s lofty heights and wide landscape vistas make it seem a world away. It’s just as easy to get an airport transfer to here as Goreme, but if you want to be a bit independent (i.e. not book a tour every day that picks you up from your hotel), it’ll mean a taxi ride (or a long walk) if you want to access the services offered by the larger town. If you’re travelling by public bus you’ll have to catch it from the station in Goreme.
So Goreme for access:
Goreme 1 – 0 Uçhisar
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite being the main town, Goreme still felt immersed in, and sensitive to, the landscape. There are fairy chimneys popping up all over the town, some used for dwellings and hotels, others just worked into the low-key infrastructure. It’s rather novel, and if you pick your hotel right, you’ll see this from your windows.
If you stay in one of the hotels at the highest point of the town like Kelebek Cave Hotel, then you have great views of Goreme and the surrounding rock (above), which is especially lovely at night. The night view out towards Uçhisar is spectacular from the road outside Kelebek, making the village look like it is floating in space!
You don’t, however, get a sense of the lay of the land, or really see any of the valleys from here. All the more reason to get out and explore!
The fact that the village is perched on the hillside underneath the ‘castle’ rock kinda gives it away really…the views from here are SPECTACULAR! You’ve just got to choose your hotel right if you want to see it from there. You’re high enough up to see all of the valleys sprawling away below, especially if you walk up to the top of Uçhisar Castle.
Pigeon Valley winds its way past the village and many of the higher-end boutique hotels enjoy this view, and on a clear day (and let’s be honest, there are lots of those) the distant 3916m volcano Erciyes seems closer than 30km away. It’s just magical to watch the dawn launch of the balloons as they take to the skies over Cappadocia, sometimes floating really close in Pigeon Valley, and with the sunrise peeping out from behind the volcano. Hands down, Uçhisar must win for views!
So Uçhisar for views:
Goreme 1 – 1 Uçhisar
It’s so easy to book on tours, hire bikes, rent quad bikes and spend an hour at one of the many street cafes mulling over your options. There are numerous companies all offering pretty much the same trips, for similar prices. It is a lot easier to arrange tours through your hotel, mainly because it takes away the hassle of doing it yourself, but also you know your hotel won’t use anyone they would not be happy for their customers to use. We booked on a tour with Turkish Heritage Travel, who are located just down the hill from Kelebek, and are partnered with Butterfly Balloons. They were both two of the best tours we’ve ever done!
Uçhisar is more of a place for relaxing and enjoying a bit of luxury. Tours will pick you up from your hotel here, no problem, and there are a couple of companies advertising if you just want to walk up, but all the action, choice and bargaining power is undoubtedly back down in Goreme.
So Goreme for activities:
Goreme 2 – 1 Uçhisar
You could have gozleme every night of the week each time at different restaurants, there are so many! Choice is the key word here, and sometimes you’ll be spoilt for it.
We can recommend Cafe Safak (above) for the coffee and delicious spinach and cheese gozleme (pancakes), and Nazar Borek (below, and just next door) for the kebab as well as gozleme. Both these are small family-run establishments with a genial and laid back atmopshere, and service with a smile. They also have pretty little tables on the sidewalk where you can watch the world (namely donkeys, tractors and tourists) go by.
We also tried Coffeedocia, and whilst it was pleasant to lounge around in the comfy chairs on the outside patio, inside was incredibly hot and stuffy. Service wasn’t particularly friendly and almost a little surly, but the food was decent, and served in cute little cardboard trays. Sometimes buger and chips is very appealing after one too many plates of gozleme.
Being a much smaller place there are of course fewer eateries to choose from, and visiting in February we found most of them shut up for the winter. Outside of peak season we suggest eating at your hotel will be the best option if you don’t want to trek back into Goreme, although we found at our hotel (Taskonaklar Rocky Palace) they weren’t serving evening meals since there were so few guests. This may well be the case at other hotels too, so it’s best to check beforehand. There were a handful of restaurants which will be open in the summer, some more towards the posher end of the scale, catering for clientele with slightly deeper pockets than down in Goreme.
It was actually almost impossible to find anywhere that was open in Uçhisar in February, but eventually we found the Balkon Restaurant, perched on the side of Pigeon Valley with superb views, 5 minutes walk up the road towards the trailhead.
We’d been for a stroll and opted for a late lunch since hubbie was starving as usual. The presence of incredibly tacky life-sized fibreglass figurines of horses and deer with parrots on their shoulders (can you spot it above?) lulled us into hoping they wouldn’t mind us in our sweaty walking gear and hiking boots. Upon entering however we realised our folly, but despite the soft music, the white linen tablecloths and wine glasses holding real napkins, we were welcomed and shown to the best table in the house. Probably something to do with the fact it was 3pm (what normal person eats lunch at 3pm anyway?) and the place was empty. We nervously glanced at the menu and tried to reconcile it with the small clutch of Lira in hubbie’s pocket. The maths didn’t quite add up, but we just about managed by not ordering drinks. (It wasn’t majorly expensive, though more so than places in Goreme, we just hadn’t brought much money with us since we were just planning on a ‘light bite’).
The service was attentive, if a little contrived, but the food was decent and watching the vast flock of pigeons flying over their valley was entertaining. It will probably be lovely in summer when you can sit out on the terrace. If you can get past the tour groups. It had the feel of a place used to indifferently catering for the masses.
For supper we decided to raid one of the local ‘supermarkets’ and have a room picnic, but we only found two such establishments in Uçhisar. One sold nothing but wine, and the other nothing but chocolate and politically incorrect biscuits. RESULT! Less than healthy but more than suitable to go with our evening in the hot tub, so dinner was purchased.
So Goreme for eating:
Goreme 3 – 1 Uçhisar
As this is the main town of the region, I was a little concerned it would be too urban, overwhelmed by tourists and out of touch with the landscape. However I needn’t have worried. Even though tourism is clearly the main economy here the town hasn’t actually been spoilt by it. There is a relaxed pace of life, where donkeys and old fashioned tractors sit contentedly side by side with tourist minibuses and quad bikes. The locals are friendly and there is a distinct absence of hassling the tourists. There is just enough bustle to keep it interesting yet not overwhelming.
The village is a lot quieter than Goreme, with less traffic and fewer tourists. It’s the sort of place where you’ll see the menfolk sitting on walls smoking their pipes and watching the world (and the balloons) go by. You just have to wander off the main road (such as it is!) to get a true sense of ‘real life’ along the cobbled back alleys and picturesque crumbling buildings that balance effortlessly but often precariously on the hillside.
Walking down the street, especially in winter, you’ll perhaps have a stray dog and a couple of cats for company, and that’s about it. A great place to come and relax for a couple of days.
So Uçhisar for atmosphere:
Goreme 3 – 2 Uçhisar
VERDICT: GOREME WINS
I so wanted Uçhisar to come out on top. I loved staying there since I do prefer smaller, quieter places, and a good view will do it for me every time. Yet if we were visiting Cappadocia again for the first time (yeah I know that’s impossible), and only had time to stay in one place, it would have to be Goreme. It just makes sense! My advice would be to stay an extra day or two and do them both!
Aside: Urgup is another option and known for it’s upmarket boutique accommodation. We drove throuh the village on a tour and I must admit I wasn’t overly impressed. It just seemed like another dusty place without as much character as either Goreme or Uçhisar, and the surrounding landscape wasn’t anywhere near as impressive.