As luck would have it we had planned a day off in the Ilhara valley so this coincided with the opportunity for David to recuperate from his bug. The worst was over but he was still drained. We therefore planned a gentle 14km stroll along the Ilhara valley, a steep sided gorge, which was written up in the guidebook as the nicest walk in Turkey. I’ve not seen all of Turkey but the walk certainly leapt into one of my top 10 walks of all time both in terms of the environment and interest.
Selime, where we were staying was at one end of the gorge so we started the day with a taxi ride to the other end at Ilhara village where ticketed entry allows you down the steps into the gorge where a path runs alongside the river back to Selime. We arranged the taxi for 9.30 and got off in Turkish time by 10.15. There was no clear reason for the delay and we were repeatedly told “couple of minutes” because that is what we wanted to hear. C’est la vie – we were not in any hurry.
In this first section the gorge walls are steep sided and the bottom of the gorge seemed to be its own little ecosystem with the river lined with willows and silver birches and wild flowers including bushes of wild roses in abundance, The bird life was incredible and one of the overriding memories is of the birdsong echoing around. My birding ignorance is quite profound so I can’t identify for you what we saw and heard but we just enjoyed seeing all kinds of birds flitting around and listening to the magical birdsong. It was a rather damp and cloudy morning which made it feel all the more mystical.
The walls of the gorge were dramatic enough but all the way along are rock hewn caves where byzantine monks would come to meditate on the coming second coming (which of course did not quite arrive as expected) and do whatever monks of that era did.
As well as the caves, some of them very high up on the walls, there were a series of churches carved out of the rock face. Several of the churches, which dated from the 9th and 10th centuries had walls covered in frescos in varying states of disrepair. Sadly many of the frescos were defaced by graffiti but where arms could not reach some of the frescos were amazingly well preserved.
Half way along the route was a small village which allowed for a rest and a “cay” stop (of course). The second half of the route is much less walked. The gorge widened out somewhat and the valley floor in parts had some small cultivated fields. The sun came out for a glorious afternoon. At times the path climbed up to more caves, including one which was still a mosque, with great views along the gorge. A highlight was seeing 2 eagles (or at least very large birds of prey with enormous wingspans) gliding up and down the walls of the gorge.
We hardly wanted the walk to end, but the ending in Selime revealed a further highlight. The rock formations here were typical of Cappadocia with cones and ‘fairy chimneys’. One rock face was hewn into what they called ‘the cathedral’. This was a whole complex of rooms, grain stores, winery, church, chapel and cathedral hewn out of the rock with a caravanserai road running up as a tunnel to the complex. It is the largest of its kind in Cappadocia and was truly extraordinary and ended a wonderful trek.
We ended the day with the map stretched out and route planning for the next week or so and another nice meal at the restaurant by the river. Back on the bikes tomorrow for more Cappadocian exploring.