For head-over-wheels mountain biking, Cappadocia’s extraordinary rock formations rival Utah’s Slickrock Trail – and 4,000 years of human history is just part of the ride
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Cappadocia is located in the Nevşehir province of central Turkey, 177 miles (285 km) southeast of Ankara
VISITORS PER YEAR Fewer than 2,000
DAYTIME TEMPERATURES Jan: 32°F (0°C); Apr: 50°F (10°C); Jul: 68°F (20°C); Oct: 52°F (11°C)
Cappadocia has been at the crossroads of history for thousands of years – Hittites, Persians, Greeks, and Romans all had their day here, but they didn’t have mountain bikes with thick tIres to make this fantasy landscape more enjoyable. The dazzling setting comprises volcanic rock cones, spires, and pinnacles, known collectively as “fairy chimneys,” which form natural pillars that are ideal for darting and skirting around on two wheels.
Both a playful pursuit and a great way to explore the area, riding among these surreal forms is a far more exhilarating and picturesque alternative to the well-worn routes of Utah’s Slickrock Trail.
But this breathtaking, otherworldly scenery is just the start of the mountain-biking experience in Cappadocia. There are also dozens of man-made wonders to take in along the way, giving the trip a fascinating cultural and historical dimension. You’ll pass ancient cave dwellings that are still in use, intricately carved pigeon lofts and monasteries with stunning frescoed walls and Byzantine art, all of which invite inspection.
As you ride through Göreme National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its towering 130-ft- (40-m-) high fairy chimneys, be sure to visit the centuries-old rock dwellings and underground villages, as well as the informative Open-Air Museum, which boasts ten rock-hewn Byzantine churches.
Another rewarding day trip is a ride through the Ihlara Valley, which is one of several sites in the area where 4th-century Christians hid in rock-hewn buildings and natural caves to escape persecution.
Along the course of the river that runs through this 9-mile- (14-km- ) long valley are more than 100 ancient churches chiseled out of the stone. Other bikers rarely visit this peaceful, rural spot, which is shaded by apricot, walnut, and Russian olive trees. Even though Cappadocia is a mountainous region where elevations range from 3,280 to 5,580 ft (1,000 to 1,700 m), the trails are never jarring or brutal, and a full-suspension bike, although useful, isn’t essential for most recreational riders.
The dramatic terrain is, in most places, ideally suited to first-time mountain bikers, but it also dishes out enough contours, twists, and turns to keep professionals entertained for days. On the international mountain-biking scene, Cappadocia is an up-and-coming destination – in 2007 it hosted the European Mountain Biking Championships and it now features an annual festival dedicated to the sport, which takes place in June.
And judging by the smiles on the faces of riders moving gracefully about this bewitching, bizarre landscape, mountain biking in Cappadocia is here to stay.
Getting There and Around
From Istanbul, fly into Kayseri, which is 44 miles (70 km) northeast of Ürgüp, a town in the heart of Cappadocia. A shuttle- bus service is available from Kayseri Airport to hotels in the major towns of Cappadocia.
Where to Eat
Turkish food is a delight, and Cappadocia’s signature cuisine of dishes slow cooked in clay pots is no exception. Here you’ll find a good variety of small, traditional restaurants and fine-dining options. Somine Restaurant in Ürgüp is one of the top restaurants in Cappadocia
Where to Stay
You don’t need to be a troglodyte to enjoy the famous cave hotels of Cappadocia. These intimate and welcoming inns are carved into the limestone and are well furnished, equipped with electricity, plumbing, and air conditioning, and offer a high standard of comfort. One of the best is the Esbelli Evi Cave Inn in Ürgüp
When to Go
The best riding conditions are in May, June, September and October, when the weather is at its coolest and driest.
Budget per Day for Two
Budget US$100–200 for food and lodging. Bicycle rentals and guided tours can be an extra US$150–200 a day for two.
FORGET THE SLICKROCK TRAIL?
This sinuous track, which winds around sculpted red-rock formations on a desert plateau in Utah overlooking the Colorado River, is the world’s most popular mountain- biking trail. It is rugged terrain, to be sure, and dishes out some dizzying twists and turns along with some quad-burning climbs.
The famed “slickrock” is actually a sandpaper-like surface that grips tires at gravity-defying angles and makes for a thrilling and challenging ride.
Slickrock attracts over 100,000 mountain bikers every year. Among the throngs, though, are many with an attitude – aficionados who are more interested in showing off their US$7,000 carbon-frame bikes than in just getting out there and having a great time.
The Slickrock Trail is open all year round, but to avoid the searing summer heat, plan on tackling it from February to May or from September to November.
The nearby town of Moab is the gateway to two national parks – Arches and Canyonlands – and offers easy access to miles of additional mountain- biking trails and many other outdoor pursuits.
4 MORE MOUNTAIN-BIKING ROUTES TO RIVAL SLICKROCK
TRAIL 401, COLORADO, USA
Colorado’s best mountain-biking trail is 14 miles (23 km) long and boasts breathtaking views of the two-peaked mountain known as the Maroon Bells, as well as stands of flickering aspens and meadows full of wild flowers.
APOLOBAMBA ROAD, LA PAZ DEPARTMENT, BOLIVIA
Check your brake pads before you begin this hair-raising descent on what has been called “the world’s most dangerous road.” Here, sheer drop-offs, towering mountains, and misty waterfalls make for an exhilarating and intense 5-hour downhill run.
FREEDOM TRAIL, SOUTH AFRICA
Set your sights on this 1,450-mile (2,300-km) route from Durban to Cape Town and expect weeks on end of dirt roads and bike trails that traverse wilderness areas, national parks, and nature preserves.
SKYLINE TRAIL, SWANSEA, UK
With over 6,600 ft (2,000 m) of roller-coaster ascents and drops, this 29-mile (46-km) loop delivers stunning views. Not for the unfit or faint of heart.