Three volcanoes created the hauntingly beautiful landscape of Cappadocia, in central Turkey, 515km (320 miles) southeast of Istanbul. The first eruption spread delicate tufa, which wind and water sculpted into ever-evolving domes, hollows, clefts, and cones. Later eruptions scattered harder lava. Now, as the soft underbelly erodes, huge boulders teeter upon slender tufa towers known as "fairy chimneys." Locals still burrow homes into the soft rock, as they have since the Paleolithic era. Some have opened these singular dwellings as guest houses, extending genuine hospitality to travelers about to venture to the region's top sights.
South of Nevsehir are Derinkuyu and Kaymakli -- two of the most impressive underground cities dug by invaders as early as 2000 B.C. as they traversed this crucial crossroads between the East and the West. From the Christian era, the Goreme Open Air Museum encompasses 30 painted churches from the 2nd century A.D. near Goreme. More recent additions to the landscape are the medieval caravansaries, such as the Agzikarahan (now a carpet market), where traveling merchants lodged as they traveled the Silk Road in the 13th century. Now a carpet market, Agzikarahan draws today's weary travelers for a glass of tea, some haggling, and a glimpse of Ottoman architecture at its height.