‘Wake up Love. Wake up!’ whispers my husband, his tone one of awe. ‘Look!’ I open my eyes to see a land of whimsical fairy chimneys and cave houses bathed in the gentle early morning light, and in the distance, a host of hot-air balloons prepare to launch. It felt as if the overnight bus from Antalya had dropped us straight into the pages of a fantasy novel.
We had come to Cappadocia to tick off that ultimate of bucket list adventures: the region’s famed hot-air balloon rides!
Our hot-air balloon pick-up is scheduled for an uncivilised 4:30am the following morning. I am not a morning person, only finding my personality in my 3rd cup of coffee of the day, but when this moment comes, I am like a little child waiting to open her presents on Christmas morning. It is still quite dark when we step outside to wait for our pickup and oh my word, it’s cold. A glance up at the sky and I am ready to go back to my warm bed and weep. A blanket of clouds hides the stars from view, and I’m not an expert but I don’t think we will be able to fly.
But I am an eternal optimist, even so early in the morning. So I don’t bail when the pick-up arrives, and I welcome the hot coffee with breakfast pastries and fruit while we wait for clearance to fly from the local civil aviation authorities. The suspense is almost unbearable, and I pray to all the weather gods that I can think of to smile upon us and grant us a small weather window for our flight. And then there’s a flurry of activity, suddenly it’s all systems go and we are off to the balloon launch site. My prayers have been answered.
By now the first light is slowly stealing over this extraordinary landscape, signaling the coming of the dawn. The excitement on the bus is almost palpable. Our driver turns down a dirt track lined with balloon envelopes being prepped for flight. A sudden whoosh of flame and an envelope lights up briefly on our left, to be replaced by another on our right, and then another, and yet another … it feels as if we are travelling along a giant string of Christmas tree lights in a fantasy wonderland.
Our driver stops next to one of these radiant lights, this is our balloon! It’s happening! We are going to do this. I have to confess that I was so busy gawking at the beauty of this mass congregation of balloons that I simply don’t remember getting into the basket, until my husband whispers in my ear, ‘Pay attention …’ to the pilot’s all-important safety briefing.
As the sun rises behind the clouds, our hot air balloon along with 99 other balloons effervesce like colourful bubbles up into the sky to greet the coming of the day. It is breath-taking! We soar high up for a birds-eye view of planet Cappadocia and a dawn sky full of colourful hot-air balloons. Our skilled pilot keeps the basket in a constant and very slow rotation so that everyone in the basket can enjoy a complete 360-degree view of the spectacle.
We drift over a magical landscape of bizarre rock formations in shades of reds, pinks and whites, and I am reminded of the Winnie the Pooh poem, ‘How sweet to be a cloud, floating in the blue,’ well, in our case, floating in the grey. It is silent except for the periodic bursts of gas released into the envelope by our pilot and the occasional reverent comments of our fellow passengers.
Our pilot rides the wind currents, dipping back down to earth and into a narrow gorge filled with fairy chimneys. At times we waft by so close that if I had the courage to lean out of the basket, I am sure I can touch them. We glide effortlessly in and out of the valleys and gorges of Cappadocia, over cultivated plots of land and over the sleepy towns of Goreme and Uchisar. We breeze over long abandoned monastery complexes and crumbling cave houses built inside the fairy chimneys and into the valley walls. On the side of an intact chimney, a balcony with a single garden chair waits for its occupant, a silent reminder that people do still live here.
And, all too soon, it is over and we land, light as a feather, back on terra firma! Well, actually, our pilot lands on the waiting basket trailer with absolute pinpoint precision. In keeping with ballooning tradition, we toast the end of our flight with a glass of champagne which I sip with my head still firmly in the clouds. It’s everything that I dreamed it would be, only so much better, it’s quiet, dramatic and simply stunning.
Good To Know:
Dress in layers, you will go to high altitudes so it is very chilly. And don’t forget your sunblock, a warm hat and gloves.
Not all hot-air balloon flights are equal!
A hot-air balloon flight in Cappadocia is without doubt a bucket list adventure, but do ask questions and do your research before you commit to a company. I noticed that some of the balloon companies simply take you up high into the sky to soar above Cappadocia for an hour and that is it! This is not a cheap adventure so you do want to ensure that you have the best experience possible with an able and confident pilot who speaks your language. Your flight depends entirely on your pilot’s ability to not only soar up into the sky but to also dip down into the valleys, safely.
This is by no means a definitive list but do ask these questions:
How skilled and experienced is our assigned pilot going to be?
Will he go low into the valleys and mix up our flight with high and low views?
Does he speak my language?
How big is the basket and how many people in are in each basket? (Some baskets take up to 40 people, yes, it is cheaper but crowded.)
What is their safety record?
And of course, the burning question, how long is the flight?
And do be aware that weather can cause the day’s flights to be cancelled so make sure to give yourself at least two mornings in Cappadocia, just in case.
DISCLOSURE: All photographs, experiences and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own.