Cave dwelling for the ancient christians in Capadocia

Zelve Open-Air Museum

Top choice in Cappadocia

The road between Çavuşin and Avanos passes a turn-off to the Zelve Open-Air Museum, where three valleys of crumbling cave-habitations and churches converge. Zelve was a monastic retreat from the 9th to the 13th century and then a village. Today its sinewy valley walls, topped with knobbly rock antennae, are a wonderfully picturesque place for poking around.

The valleys were inhabited until 1952, when they were deemed too dangerous to live in and the villagers were resettled a few kilometres away in Aktepe, also known as Yeni Zelve (New Zelve). An excellent walking trail loops around the valleys allowing access to the various caverns, although erosion continues to eat into the valley structures and certain areas are cordoned off due to rockfalls. Valley One is home to the old değirmen (mill), with a grindstone, and to the impressive Üzümlü Kilise (Grape Church) and neighbouring Balıklı Kilise (Fish Church) with fish figuring in one of the primitive paintings. In Valley Three is a small, unadorned rock-cut mosque.

There are plenty of small stalls selling gözleme (stuffed flatbreads) and fresh-pressed orange juice lining the Zelve car park, but for the best place to put your feet up after exploring head to Peri Cafeteria, a few metres up the slope directly behind the Zelve ticket office. With its shaded, rickety balconies, fruit trees and hammocks, this is the top spot in Zelve for lunch or a drink.

The Ürgüp–Avanos dolmuş stops at Zelve. If you're heading onward to Avanos after your visit, the dolmuş swings by Zelve car park at roughly 25 minutes past the hour; going the other way, towards Göreme and Ürgüp, it passes by around 15 minutes past the hour. It's an easy 1.5km flat walk along the road from Zelve to Paşabağı.

Note that the Zelve ticket office closes at 4.15pm from October to mid-April.

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