Pamukkale means ‘Cotton Castle’ in Turkish and perfectly describes the white terraces, known as travertines, which tread their way down the hillside. Each pool is created from startling white limestone deposits filled with water from 17 of the natural hot water springs in the area.
The terraces are like hundreds of mini infinity pools that hug the hillside leading down to the town below. The shallow water reflects the cobalt blue skies above.
People have bathed in the pools for hundreds of years and at one time hotels at the top of the travertines used the water from the pools. This took a serious toll on the site which was in danger of being damaged beyond repair. The hotels have since been demolished and visitors are no longer allowed to wear shoes in the pools. The the water is now channelled in rotation as there is not enough to fill the whole site at any one time. Fortunately the travertines are now slowly recovering.
We spent a couple of hours exploring the remains of Hieropolis, the ancient town built at the top of Pamukkale. Afterwards we paddled in the travertines. Whistles were blasted at offenders not removing their shoes before walking on the limestone – yes some tourists still actually do this.
Up close the limestone was a miniature version of the travertines themselves and just a little rough to walk on – by the time we got to the bottom my feet felt really soft after the buffing they’d had.
As the sun slowly started to sink the light reflected off the limestone giving it a soft golden glow and the moon rose in the sky above.
This was the second stop on our mini-tour of Turkey. From Goreme we travelled eight hours on the night bus to Dinizli and then by Dolmus to Pamukkale itself arriving in the town at dawn.
Agadir in southwest Morocco with its sun, sea and surf is perfect for a winter sunshine break but if you’re looking for traditional Moroccan style you won’t find it. The town has a distinct European feel as it was completely rebuilt after a devastating earthquake destroyed it in 1960 tragically killing 15,000 inhabitants.
“God, Country and King”
Agadir’s long, wide sandy beach lined with restaurants, bars and hotels is the main attraction, as are the beaches further north, their rolling white breakers drawing the surf crowd. Although we were happy soaking up some sun, whilst the snow settled back home, it wasn’t long before I got twitchy and felt the need to search out some traditional local colour.
There are some interesting historical towns within striking distance of Agadir and we booked a tour with a local guide to Taroudant. This authentic Berber market town sits in the heart of the Souss Valley with a backdrop of the Anti Atlas mountains and has the best preserved town walls in Morocco. To give you an idea it also goes by the moniker of Little Marrakech.
We’re picked up at our hotel by a driver and our guide, Sala, wearing a blue cotton shesh – a Berber style turban – and start out for Taroudant which is about an hours drive inland from Agadir. As we drive through the fertile Souss Valley see the distant snow-capped peaks of the Atlas mountains, catch sight of a caravan of around 30 dromedaries owned by nomad Berbers and pass lush green orange groves the fruit ripe and ready.
We also spy the infamous Moroccan ‘Flying Goats’ – well not exactly flying – more just climbing trees. The nimble goats clamber around the branches of the Argan trees munching on the foliage. We stop the car to take a closer look and the herders are more than happy for us to take photos – for a few coins of course – but worth every dirham because I’m still smiling about those goats. The goats seemed quite bemused by us too.
We arrive at Taroudant, the apricot castellated ramparts concealing the bustle within, and enter the town through one of the nine ancient gateways.
We have two hours in Taroudant; time to navigate the two small souks, stop off in the main square and soak up some real Moroccan life. Men wearing hooded Djellabas and soft leather slippers slip quickly by while women draped head to foot in indigo blue, the Berber national colour, provide a bright contrast against the sun-bleached buildings.
The Souk Arab is a maze of alleyways selling local handicrafts; silverware, carved limestone, ceramics, saffron, spices, lanterns and leather. I buy a mini tagine trio that I’m not really sure what to do with now I’ve got it home – the haggling with the shopkeeper was lighthearted although he was far more skilled at it than me! Having said that people aren’t pushy and don’t approach us unless we show an interest – some are positively shy and it’s not hugely touristy.
The Marche Berbere, the other souk in town, is the food market packed with local people. It’s lively and colourful; fruit and vegetables fresh and vibrant are beautifully displayed in alluring patterns – Morocco knows how to do patterns. The mouth-watering smell of street food and spices waft from stalls and doorways and the summer-sweet smell of strawberries hit the senses as we pass by wooden carts stacked with pyramids of the ripe red fruit. Cuts of meat hang from butchers windows that open straight onto the street and a large, plucked turkey languishes awaiting its fate. Flat breads are stacked high. All the while the rasping whine of a Ghita, the Moroccan flute, follows us through the narrow alleyways. This small enclave and former Berber stronghold buzzes with life.
Near the Square we came across some women demonstrating how they produce Argan oil. I found this interesting as this was a very different scenario from the Fairtrade Womens Cooperative I visited in Tighanimine the day before – I’ll be writing about those amazing women in a future post.
We finished our visit with a stop in the heart of the town in the main square, Place Assarag, and find a café with a roof terrace. This is a good move because it means we get a great view of the square’s goings-on and can drink in the atmosphere with our mint tea without any hassle from the shouty man with the cobra in a basket. It’s huge entertainment watching him get everyone else though!
If you’re in Agadir and want to see a slice of real Moroccan life then Taroudant is the perfect day out. At only an hours drive away it’s much nearer than the three hours to Marrakech – the people in the souks are a lot less pushy and the atmosphere friendlier. You may even see some flying goats on the way!
We were picked up at 8:30 am returning at 14:00. We had plenty of room in a large 4×4 which we shared with one other couple at a cost of €18 pp. We booked through the hotel with a local tour company.
The first leg of our mini tour of Turkey in Göreme was coming to an end. We’d floated over Cappadocia in a hot air balloon and explored the depths of Derinkuyu underground city. We visited the Open Air Museum and slept in a fairy chimney in a wonderful boutique cave hotel. We’d done a lot but had one day left before leaving for Pamukkale. We wanted to get out into the countryside and see some of those towering fairy chimneys up close and visit the evil eye tree.
The valleys and volcanic rock formations around Göreme make for some interesting hiking. Hassan from the hotel gave us directions to the nearest fairy chimneys in Love Valley. It’s on the road to Avanos and about a 20 minute walk. We set off with a sense of adventure and plenty water.
Evil Eye Tree
Out of town on the Cavusin road we passed a lone Aussie bar which had a tree laden with nazar boncuğu or evil eye talismans. Blue glass against a cobalt sky. The Evil Eye Tree. In Turkey, and Greece, the Evil Eye has a deep cultural symbolism. The talisman is fixed to anything perceived to attract greed, envy, or ill-will to ward off the evil eye. We noticed the nazars all over Turkey; secreted over doorways, nailed to the masts of boats, embedded into thresholds and displayed in shops, bars and restaurants. There was even one on our hotel key fob. The evil eye tree dripped with glinting glass eyes which looked like small shiny fruits ripe for the picking – at a small cost of 1TL.
We carried on through the shimmering heat and turned right at the ‘Tourist Hotel Goreme’. We followed a dusty track heading for the chimneys towering in the distance. On rounding a capacious bush we came face to face with a pop-up café, Turkish style, which an elderly couple had set up, selling cay (Turkish tea), coffee and souvenirs. More evil eyes winked at us in the sun.
The Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia
The chimneys were calling, looming larger than they looked from the road and casting long cooling shadows across the pale volcanic rock. We were faced with steep mounds which we clambered up on all fours to reach an inner set of chimneys. The stacks were much taller than we expected, reaching skyward with thick lines of horizontal strata and erosion. Some were grey and wide, others were taller and skinny the colour of sandstone and on a distinct lean. The picture of me sheltering from the sun in the shadow of a chimney will give you an idea of the heights involved.
There were caves in some of the structures but they were high up and we resisted the temptation to rock climb. After all, once you get up there you’ve gotta get down again! As we stopped for a breather and to take some photos we discovered that the chimneys weren’t the only pointy things around. A nasty little wasp decided to embed its sting in Mr Jone’s foot and by the language spouted I’m guessing it hurt. I squished the culprit before it got me too and I’m glad I did because that wasp sting was to have lasting repercussions. You can read about what happened in my Bodrum post. We’d had two chances to buy a talisman and hadn’t. There might just be something in this evil eye protection!
The views to Rose Valley opposite were magnificent. Although we’d planned to go back the way we came, via the café for some refreshment, we couldn’t help but climb higher and higher. We made it to the top of Görkündere Ridge which overlooks the valley. It took about half an hour but when we finally made it we could see over the chimneys and far across to the amazing panorama beyond. Well worth the climb.
It soon became clear that Göreme was on the other side of the ridge. We pushed on trying to find a shortcut back. As we walked we realised that the ridge led to the ‘lookout point’ where people gathered perilously close to the edge to photograph the sunset. As we stood looking down over the town the sound of the muezzin’s echoing call to prayer wafted in the air. One of those moments when you just have to stop and quietly soak it all up.
We trecked back down the other side of the ridge and through the town. We’d had an amazing few days in Goreme and would have loved to have stayed longer. But we had a schedule and needed to be at the Otogar by 7.30 that evening for the next stage of our Turkey Tour and the night bus to Pamukkale.