Discover the sexy side of Ma Nature in Turkey
Turkey's 'Willy Valley' is just as seductive as its name, writes Matthew Savides
It's surprising that more children aren't conceived in Göreme, what with hundreds of phalluses proudly on display. It's difficult not to notice - and even be a little embarrassed by - the bolt upright rock formations surrounding the central Turkish town. Whether clumped together in groups, or standing alone pointing to the heavens, the millennia-old rocks really do take centre stage.
It's no wonder that the area, in the heart of Cappadocia, has been nicknamed "Love Valley" (or even "Willy Valley"). Phalluses aside, there's more to the quaint town - about 735km south-east of Istanbul - than suggestively-shaped rocks.
On a crisp, clear morning, fuelled by strong Turkish coffee, my family and I got an aerial view of Göreme from the basket of a hot air balloon - and it's every bit as spectacular as you might imagine.
It's an early start, 5am, and the air is chilly. There's only a slight breeze, which is a good because a strong wind will leave the balloons grounded for safety reasons, so we load into the back of a van and head to the outskirts of the town.
With the sun casting a yellow-red glow as it begins to peek over the top of the surrounding mountain range, it's soon clear why the area has become a fast-growing tourism location.
According to local authorities, more than 2.5-million people visit Cappadocia each year, lured largely by the ballooning experience - and by pure fascination with those suggestively-shaped rocks.
There's an otherworldliness about Cappadocia, especially from several hundred metres off the ground. If ever there was a chance to see a Martian pop out from behind a rock, this is where it would happen.
As we drift silently it's almost surprising that ET doesn't appear from a shadowy corner of a cave.
As we drift, our captain gives us the heads up: "This next area is known as 'Love Valley'. You will see why." Smirks and giggles soon follow as the mushroom-shaped rocks came into view. If Mother Nature has a wicked side, it's in this surreal landscape of spires, pillars and "chimneys" that she shows off in all its glory.
The €165 (around R2,404) balloon trip lasts about an hour, leaving you with plenty of time to explore the rest of Göreme - and there's plenty to see.
As we sat eating dinner on our guesthouse balcony, looking out over the mountains we ballooned over and walked among, it became clear that there's much more to Turkey than the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. Göreme is surprising, surreal and special - and thanks to Mother Nature more than a little bit sexy.
THIS OPEN AIR MUSEUM'S A MUST-SEE IN GÖREME
Göreme also boasts an open-air museum, one of the world's largest cave-dwelling complexes and a World Heritage Site. It's a short walk from the town centre but be warned, the road is pretty steep so it might be best to catch a bus. Once there, the effort is worth it.
The complex houses, rock-cut churches and dwellings date back to the 4th century, resplendent with frescos that tell the story of the New Testament. While many paintings have taken a beating over the years - by human interaction, the weather and earthquakes - the stories they tell are still every bit as fascinating as they always were.
Kitchens, bedrooms and even tombs (complete with skeletons) are dotted throughout the complex. For thousands of years people have lived inside these sandstone houses, and continue to do so. It makes you wonder how people lived there, especially in the snowy winter months.
• This article was originally published in The Times.