Hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia
Sail over the Anatolian plains in a hot air balloon and see the diverse landscape of Cappadocia in Turkey, with its limestone caves, river valleys and villages.
Goreme is called the land of the beautiful horses. But while there may not be many horses in the small Turkish town these days, the landscape is without a doubt, beautiful.
The best way to take it all in? From above.
Hot air ballooning over Goreme (pronounced Gor-rem-meh) and its neighbouring towns is a sight like no other.
We hit the air about 5.30am just before dawn, after being picked up from our hotel and given breakfast at the balloon company's headquarters with more than 100 other eager fliers.
As we start floating away in the dark we can see flickers of fire dotted across the countryside from the gas bottles of other balloons preparing to make their way skyward.
There are 20 passengers in our basket plus our balloon pilot Durmus. He assures us as we quickly skim over a grassy hill that he's the best flyer in Cappadocia.
There's a whisper of doubt though when we fly towards some limestone cliffs and instead of heading up, Durmus hovers us near the ground right next to a jagged rock face for about 10 minutes. When your life is in the hands of a balloon, sharp edges are not something you want to see.
But as we slowly rise, the valley view opens up and we understand the reason for the delay. Having held our balloon back, we're now behind a pack of 150 balloons floating over the Anatolian plains.
Our pilot rotates our basket regularly so we can each take in the view.
The bright multi-coloured material and smooth curvature of the balloons are a stark contrast to the arid terrain below us.
We sail over the top of Cappodocia's famous conical limestone rocks – formed as a result of volcanoes about 16 million years ago.
Doors and windows have been carved into the formations since the fourth century, when Christians and other locals used the caves for shelter and as hideouts to escape persecution.
These "geological oddities", as the travel guides call them, line the outskirts of Cappadocia and form white borders around a number of river valleys, including the Pigeon, Red, Green and Ihara river valleys.
The day before our flight with Kapadokya Balloons, we took a tour of Goreme and spent an afternoon walking through the serene Rose Valley.
Now from the air, the tree-lined river is a stark visual contrast to the dusty and dry villages identified by clusters of brown-roofed houses.
At one point we fly over square patches of farmland scattered with pumpkins.
The next, we're passing the UNESCO World Heritage-listed open-air museum in Goreme. It has a complex city of rock-cut churches housing religious frescos dating back to the 10th century.
As we rise level with a neighbouring balloon, Durmus pumps on the gas bottle to the tune of Queen's We Will Rock You, although we're a bit far away to hear a response.
"Today is very good. Not windy, we can just go up and down," yells Durmus, who was born in Cappadocia.
He has spent the past eight years as a passenger pilot after training for two years and flies every morning.
Throughout the flight, Durmas constantly speaks into a walkie talkie in Turkish. He explains that he keeps in contact with the other balloon drivers to monitor any wind change and communicates our location and height.
We reach a top height of 1300 metres shortly before 6.30am.
As the sun comes over the cliff, the first rays hit the balloon pack. With the sun behind them, the curved vessels are now just silhouettes in the sky.
We're so mesmerised and busy taking photos that we don't even realise we're coming closer to the ground.
An old man standing on his verandah takes a photo of us with digital camera as we fly over his house towards a truck parked beside his tomato plants.
Durmas expertly lands the basket into the hands of four groundsman who somehow manage to guide our us right onto the waiting trailer.
We cheer for a successful and safe landing and toast to the skills of our driver a short time later with our breakfast of cherry juice, champagne and muffins.
The old man waves and takes one last snap of the deflating material before retreating through his front door. It seems the novelty of waking up to balloons overhead doesn't fade.
OTHER HOT AIR BALLOON DELIGHTS
New Mexico, US: The annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, now in its 44th year, is a site to behold. Last year's festival in October saw more than 500 balloons hit the sky.
Switzerland: Fly over chalets and villages covered in snow in the Swiss Alps. The annual International Balloon Festival is held at the end of January in Chateau d'Oex.
Tanzania, Africa: Take an air safari and spot animals like leopards, hippos, gazelles and other wildlife from the air. Serengeti National Park started hot air balloon flights in 1989.
Hunter Valley, Australia: What better way to enjoy the wine delights of the Hunter Valley then seeing its expansive vineyards from the air at sunrise.
Several major international airlines operate frequently from Sydney and Melbourne to Istanbul: see qantas.com.au or emirates.com. Flights from Istanbul to Kayseri Airport are serviced by Turkish Airlines or local airlines such as Pegasus. Local tour companies and hotels in Goreme will help organise airport transfers.
Terra Cave Hotel, Aydinli Mahallesi Aydinli Sokak No:24, NV, Turkey, is short stroll to the town centre and is an affordable and extremely friendly option and provides a terrific home-cooked breakfast. Rooms start from $100 a night, see terracave.com.
Plenty of options but two highly recommended restaurants: Dibek, Goreme main town, see dibektraditionalcook.com, book ahead (at least three hours) for the traditional kebap dish slow-cooked in a terracotta pot. Topdeck Cave Restaurant, Hafız Abdullah Efendi Sokak 15, bookings essential.
The writer travelled at her own expense .