It’s not so hard to see why Cappadocia keeps luring me back, and for longer visits with the passing of each year.
The region is best known for its lunar like landscape, fractured with deep valleys and peppered with fairy chimneys and hobbit-like cave dwellings that justly earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Most visitors tend to slot Cappadocia into a two to three day rapidly railroaded regional tour as one of the highlights. Sunrise hot air balloon rides here are virtually a rite of passage for any traveller and indeed the experience of gliding over this unique landscape as it glows in the morning light is truly special.
But the amazing network of trails slowly passing beneath these hot air balloons will snare the cyclist. Literally thousands of kilometres of pristine trails and dirt roads cover this extensive landscape, stretching well beyond the limited horizons of the “golden triangle” of attractions that are all many get to see.
These surreal trails are quite unlike any others, and as soon as you leave the prime tour bus drop sites behind you’ll more or less have them all to yourself, with the freedom to ride just about anywhere.
On a short visit here you’re likely to be somewhat awestruck. It’s hard to take in the wonder of the landscape, let alone comprehend how so many different civilisations have made their homes here over thousands of years, by carving cave dwellings, digging extensive underground cities and irrigating these arid valley bottoms.
To even begin to grasp this takes a whole lot longer than a few days, and to get anywhere close to scratching beneath the surface of the riding, well, that’s an on-going task for me and one that never gets tedious.
Last year I was in the region for a gran fondo in nearby Kayseri, which is just over an hour from the main heart of Cappadocia. I’d assumed there wouldn’t be much road riding here, yet the route took in some great and wide-open desert like scenery before climbing to almost 2,000 metres to finish in a ski resort atop of Mount Argeus.
This is a cone shaped and now dormant volcano that dominates the landscape for as far as the eye can see but once was responsible for the formation of the region's famous valleys. Since that 2016 visit many regional and national teams have taken to using the ski station as a base for altitude training.
Just a few weeks back on my last extended visit, I was around for the Gran Fondo Cappadocia, which shone a light on some great road riding among the rolling hills and high ground to the south of Uchisar. The route was also pretty impressive and backs up the credibility of Cappadocia as a decent road bike destination.
I travelled bike-free this time and borrowed a mountain bike from Argeus Travel, the local experts in cycling, and organisers of many gran fondos and races around Turkey, including the Tour of Turkey up until last year.
Following familiar trails over the period of a month I slowly branched out in other directions, pinning together some great and long rides, taking in the highlights and exploring the roads less ridden.
Ever since my first visit here I’d wanted to bring a cyclocross or a gravel bike, but had always kept things more traditional and gone MTB although this trip really sealed the deal for my next visit: I simply have to take a gravel bike.
This place is positively Nirvana for epic and fun gravel riding and bike packing, although in Turkey gravel bikes are still something of an oddity, which is probably why Cappadocia hasn’t hit the jackpot yet and earned itself a headline billing as an all-round riding destination.
If you love mixing road with dirt, pinning it together with sketchy singletrack and finishing up with cobbled climbs, then Cappadocia will come close to the max on your gravel goodness dial.
Throw in some of the most amazing scenery on the planet, season with rich culture and history, and top with a lashing of great local food – all on a decent budget – Cappadocia, won’t disappoint.
Many airlines fly to Istanbul, from where there are several connections each day to Nevsehir and Kayseri, the regional airports that serve Cappadocia.
If you fly Turkish Airlines it’s a breeze, and you can often use this as a stop off on the way to Europe, which makes even more sense.
On the ground, there are regular shuttles from the airports to accommodations in the main towns. These are best arranged in advance (Argeus).
Rental cars are available too, and prices are similar to Europe. Driving in Turkey is safe and easy.
There are a number of towns and villages in the heart of Cappadocia. Goreme is the main tourist town, and has the cheapest hotels and eats – but it can also be busy (even if it’s small).
Uchisar is a great base, it’s just a few clicks from Goreme, is quiet and more upmarket, and sits atop of a big hill – which means a climb at he end of most rides. Check out www.kalekonak.com, a great boutique cave hotel with excellent biking knowledge on tap.
Argeus have great bike guides and ground backup, and know every trail in the region. They also have good MTB’s for rent, and are flexible and amenable - definitely highly recommended.
When to ride
The best times to ride are May-June, and September-October. A month either side of these can work too, but mid summer is too hot, and mid winter, extremely cold.
Safety, visas and costs
Needless to say Turkey has had a bad rap in recent years. Having travelled all over the country, numerous times, I can say it is very safe, and even more so in Cappadocia.
Visas: most nationalities can get an e-visa online in just a few hours, and also get a visa on arrival at the airport.
Turkey is a fairly inexpensive place to travel around – far less costly than Europe & Australia, and more expensive than Southeast Asia.
For details check out www.argeus.com.tr