The Argos in Cappadocia, a magical hotel in central Turkey.
It is one of the most incredible landscapes on earth.
All around are bizarre rock formations, underground cities, fairy chimneys, monasteries and cave homes carved out of soft volcanic rock.
This is Cappadocia in central Turkey, where the terrain resembles an ancient moonscape.
And while fascinating to explore at ground level, there is no better way to experience this part of the world than from above in a hot air balloon.
It is just after 5.30am when we lift off, the expanse of the Royal Balloon bulging as the burners provide the altitude.
Around us, the sky is alive with many more multi-coloured balloons, floating slowly over the terrain of natural formations, and cave homes, monasteries and churches.
We are airborne for an hour, at times reaching heights of 250m, before eventually heading toward the ancient town of Uçhisar dominated by a castle hewn out of the volcanic rock.
Below it, a village of cave houses tumbles down the hillside and into the famous Pigeon Valley of white rock worn by wind and water into smooth conical patterns over thousands of years.
Uçhisar is a museum community in the heart of the region, yet one where these abandoned dwellings and a centuries-old monastery, have received a new lease of life.
Refurbished as the rooms and suites of the luxurious Argos in Cappadocia hotel, the accommodation is spread over the hillside and linked by hidden tunnels and alleys.
Individually-styled with secluded courtyards, each room features Turkish carpets, artefacts, candles and decorative objects set in wall niches, yet retains the integral character of the architecture for a hotel that intriguingly describes itself as “an ancient village with a reception desk.”
The 51 rooms, with original features such as archways and rough-hewn ceilings, are in several styles and range from standard rooms to Splendid Suites set over two storeys with their own private pools.
Gardens and terraces offer panoramic views from the foothills of Uçhisar Fortress to Güvercinlik Valley and Mount Erciyes, while narrow footpaths lead to the hotel lounge and the Seki Restaurant, where the hotel’s herb, vegetable and fruit gardens are in full bloom in the valley below.
Serving regional, Turkish, and international dishes, the Seki Restaurant also has a fabulous wine cellar holding a global selection complemented by the hotel’s own award-winning Kalecik Karasi and Syrah wines produced from the grapes of its vineyards a few miles away.
From lamb meat wrapped in grape leaves, the Kayseri Manti (chickpea, yogurt and butter) or the Saslik Kebab of marinated beef, pita bread, tomato sauce and yoghurt, the food is divine.
The hotel, which is open all year round, has won an array of awards including the Best Small Hotel in Turkey in the International Hotel Awards 2016-17 while in the World Luxury Hotel Awards 2015 it was named “Europe’s Best Scenic Environment.”
In the late spring and summer the panorama is spectacular, yet the chill of winter offers an additional perspective with a covering of snow.
While the view from a balloon is incomparable, Cappadocia is incredible area to explore at ground level, or even below ground.
Kaymakli, one of the most visited subterranean settlements, is dug out of rock formed of sandy volcanic ash, pumice and lava, and reaches down eight storeys where thousands of people once lived.
A few miles away, one of the major visitor sites in Cappadocia is the Goreme Open Air Museum where a nunnery, monastery and numerous 4th century churches – many with well-preserved wall paintings telling the story of Christ – are carved out of the rock face.
Elsewhere, the so-called fairy chimneys are a symbol of Cappadocia, where the elements have shaped the rock into tall pillars leaving flat slabs incongruously balanced on top of them like little stone caps.
Cappadocia is arguably Turkey’s most popular destination outside of Istanbul with its mysterious expanse of ravines, canyons, mountains and valleys formed by millions of years of soft volcanic lava and ash, with many of the finest sites within easy reach of Uçhisar.
Amidst this landscape, the Argos in Cappadocia sits discreetly as an oasis of luxury, blending perfectly with the architecture and culture of the region.
Accommodation: Argos in Cappadocia, Uçhisar 50240, Nevsehir, Turkey. For more information, visit www.argosincappadocia.com and email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0090-384-219-3130.
Flights: Daily flights from Istanbul to Nevsehir (25 minute drive) and Kayseri (one hour drive) airports.
Balloon Trip: Royal Balloon.