It’s worth waking up at 4:00 a.m. to go hot air ballooning in Cappadocia.
The surreal moonlike landscape of this region in Turkey is rivalled only by Africa as the best place in the world to float in a balloon. Sometimes up to 100 balloons take off each day.
Many balloon rides are in large baskets, carrying 16 guests in four quarters. With Royal Balloon, on their deluxe 90-minute flight, we’re fortunate to share with just one other couple – and our balloon pilot, of course – in a much smaller basket (which our gruff Aussie pilot says is actually a training balloon basket).
Taking off in the hot air balloon
The sun is just starting to burst over the horizon when we arrive at our take-off spot.
Our pilot and ground staff start to inflate the balloon (which is lying on the ground), using a giant fan and blowtorch. This is done so pressurized hot air can be safely fired into its large open mouth. And it’s quite the noisy and fiery spectacle!
Once the balloon is upright, we quickly clamber into the chest-high basket using foot holes in the sides, which serve as ladder-like rungs.
The pilot pulls on levers about a foot above our heads, shooting flames and hot air into the balloon. And we gently rise up, up, up into the sky.
We’re worried at first our hair will get singed every time the pilot yanks on the handles and hot air whooshes loudly into the balloon – especially as bits of flaky white soot shower down every so often. But we soon relax and focus on the incredible scenery below us.
Cappadocia’s cave houses and “fairy chimneys”
Our pilot had hoped the winds would take us over Uchisar Castle, a towering rock citadel with hollowed out caves, and the highest point in the area. But you can’t steer a balloon – only lift and lower it (and seek out the height where the wind direction is favorable).
Today, the gentle breeze doesn’t cooperate. We glide over fertile green fields, vineyards and the clay-roofed town of Avanos, famous for its pottery, on the snaking Red River.
Over the Rose Valley, we descend between the cliff sides of the gorge, where we ogle cave houses and churches cut into the rock sides by early Christians who fled to Cappadocia to escape persecution.
We even spot a fox scampering along a plateau, before our balloon rises again.
Coming back down to earth for the last time, we drift by “fairy chimneys” and other weird and wonderfully shaped rock formations.
Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia – champagne celebration after
And then? The traditional celebration that follows every successful balloon flight – popping open a bottle of champagne and toasting our safe landing and good fortune with a glass of bubbly.
Royal Balloon kindly invited us to experience hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. But all views, words and photos are our own.