Mountain Biking in Turkey

Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is one of the most spectacular places on earth. Steve Thomas finds that it’s also home to some the best and most unusual mountain biking around.

Loud and threatening thunder rumbled all around the cobalt coloured sky. Occasionally the sky was fractured by a worrying bolt of lightning as I battled into the swirling storm. Hail lashed away at my slightly sunburned face, stinging me sharply with every pelt.

I was somewhere between a rock and a hard place, literally. Less than an hour earlier I’d set off to locate a ridge top dirt trail from Uchisar and on to the Rose Valley near Goreme, in the Cappadocia region of central Anatolia, Turkey.

With lightning bolts crashing around me, I rode all out for the safety of a distant rock formation; a huge pointed pillar with an archway and several window-like holes piercing its base. This formation turned out to be an ancient christian cave church, and I was certainly glad to seek sanctuary inside the lightening proof and hail sheltered cavern.

Within minutes the scenario had changed again. Fluffy clouds and a piercingly blue sky took over and beat off the darkness, as if my entering the holy cave had caused some kind of divine intervention. It really was a case of four seasons in one day, or even in an hour as it turned out.

With this meteorological transformation my spirits and hopes for the days ride had lifted from near rock bottom to sky high—it was all blue skies ahead. Hitting the slickrock trails between these charismatic rock formations, I headed deeper into the hills with just a vague route plan in mind. Twisting through a huge U-shaped gully, the trail climbed its way out of the valley and upwards before eventually emerging on a panoramic ridge.

The obvious direction from here was down, deep down into the Rose Valley which laid out before me, but that would be way too obvious. Instead I chose to follow the skinny slickrock snake upwards. If it turned out to be a dead end, then at least I’d have the privilege of blasting down it again.

DIY Adventure

Climbing away from the valley I could see the ‘wild western’ style ridge that was my intended destination. The idea was to maintain or gain height before trying to find a trail that my guide from the previous day had told me about; a trail that carved its way right along the scarred and layered face of the ridge.

Onwards and upwards I passed through arid agricultural lands before reaching the valley head. It was decision time again; take what appeared to be a main road to find my illusive trail, or to dive downhill and into a sea of rock pillars—at that fatigued moment the latter option was a clear winner.

The trail was an absolute cracker but I pulled to a sharp and dusty halt, gobsmacked by the scale of the landscape before me. I’d seen many documentaries and pictures from Cappadocia, but the expanse was so much more than I’d imagined.

The descent was short but oh so sweet, and a handsome reward for my efforts on the climb. Riding through the valley was totally hypnotic; rock pillars were literally brushing at my elbows, dicing through caves, splashing through streams and twisting through cave villages. I would never have dreamt that such a superb package lay hidden here. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail when the scenery is so diverse and amazing—it’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Rounding another corner and I came across a small tea shop, literally miles from anywhere. Small wooden tables and stools perched beneath the overhanging rocks while the owner brewed up fresh tea for me. It was a dreamy and idyllic kind of place and contemplation was the order of the moment.

Cappadocia is drenched in historical and cultural interest and it’s extremely varied. The mythical and factual history pre-dates biblical times and it is documented right back to the Bronze Age.

The landscape is intriguing too. Perched on a 1,000 metre high desert-like plateau, the region contains numerous valleys and peaks. It’s characterised by the volcanically formed and oh-so surreal ‘fairy chimney’ pillars. These formations dominate the landscape and over the centuries many have been hollowed out to form cave dwellings, churches, cathedrals and entire cities—it feels like you’re in some bizarre scene from the movie Star Wars.

Most visitors rarely get to the heart of the region, sticking instead to coached and railed highlight tours. Hop on your MTB and you’ll quickly have the place all to yourself—it’s an amazing experience to have in a place of such historic and natural significance.

Back out on the trail, I decided to go with the flow and see where it led me. More deserted cave dwellings, plenty of hardened slickrock singletrack and some serious climbs; in many ways I was glad that I’d just taken my chances and followed my nose.

From a MTB perspective, Cappadocia may be a comparative unknown but it’s a fair match for legendary places such as Moab and the Canyonlands. I had seen and sampled some of the most amazing and surprising riding I’d ever come across, and it was very accessible too. I was left wishing for a few more days, or even a couple more weeks to explore, as I’d barely knocked the dust off these trails—this is one place that I’ll have to revisit!

General Information

Getting There

Numerous airlines serve Istanbul; Qatar and Malaysian are particularly bike friendly (30kg baggage allowance with MAS and an extra 10kg for a bike on Qatar for a 33kg total). Turkish Airlines are also reasonable (30-60 Euro extra per booked flight for a bike, payable at the airport).

Cappadocia is served by two regional airports; Nevsehir and Kayseri, both are about a one-hour flight from Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), so it’s accessible either as a dedicated trip, or as a stopover on the way to Europe.

You can pre-book airport transfer shuttles to most towns in the region too; check out 

Finding the Trails

All of the valleys in Cappadocia have numerous multi-use hiking/biking trails, and it’s possible to take in three or four valleys in a single day of riding—if you know where to go.

The Rose Valley and Pigeon Valley are a must, but allow a few days to get a proper look around and make sure you check out the lesser-known surrounds as well.

Despite being a world heritage protected state, access is free-range and open. Trail congestion and conflicts are not a problem, although in the longer term this situation will probably change.

You can buy hiking trail maps in all towns, which are fine for getting a grasp of the region, but are not detailed enough for finer navigation. Hiring a guide or booking an organised tour is a sound investment, even if just for a sampler. 

Where to Stay

The heart of Cappadocia is made up of a number of small villages and towns. Goreme is the most popular tourist base; it’s small but busy and budget conscious. Here you will find numerous rooming options, both budget and luxury, as well as coffee shops, restaurants and tour agencies. It’s also a great place to ride straight out of and into the valleys.

Nearby is the small hilltop town of Uchisar, which is a little more up-market, quieter and offers panoramic vistas of the region. It also has an amazing castle carved into its huge and crowning rock pillar.

You really should spend at least one night in a cave hotel if you’re in Cappadocia; it’s all part of the experience. Check out Kale Konak in Uchisar for something special: 


There are plenty of internet cafes and WiFi spots in and around the towns of Cappadocia. You can get 3G sim cards at the arrivals terminal at Istanbul Airport and elsewhere. Mobile coverage is very good, even in the remote areas of Cappadocia, so Google Maps and other navigational aids can be used on the move. 

Dining Turkish Style

There are loads of great local and international eateries in the region. Turkish food is not spicy and there’s always plenty of lamb and veggies on the menu.

A favourite local dish is testi kebab, which is not what it might sound like—it’s a slow cooked stew that is served in a self-contained ceramic pot that’s actually sliced open upon serving.

Breakfasts are huge here too – and quite varied; several varieties of local cheese, pastry, bread, jams, fruit and olives are served with fresh tea, or coffee if you prefer.

The favourite local tipple is Effes, a lager beer, although the clear anise based ‘raki’ is also popular. Wines of every variety are grown in the region too; the vines thrive in the volcanic soil. There are wineries and wine shops in Uchisar and elsewhere in the area.

If you’re in Uchisar, check out ‘House of Memories’ for a great dining experience. 

When to Visit

The region is good to visit year-round, although it is insanely hot during July-August, and gets snowy and cold during January-February—great for pictures and snowshoes but no good for riding.

The best time to hit the trails is in May-June and from September through to early December. 


The region is well set up for mountain biking, and the undoubted local expert is Argeus – They can arrange bike rentals and guides; a really worthwhile service that’ll help you make the most of your time in the region.

They also offer set dates for multi-day point-to-point tours of the greater Cappadocia region, as well as tailor made ride options. 


There are plenty of bike rental outlets in Goreme, offering mid-range hardtails; they are fine for most day rides, or even more. However, if you want to feel at home or do some more epic riding, then it’s wise to take your own steed along.

Many tour companies (such as Argeus) do have decent quality bikes available on their tours. There’s also a small bike shop in front of the Argeus office in Urgup, which is run by their head guide Khadir.

For most of the riding here I would recommend a hardtail or an XC dually—some rides can involve plenty of climbing as well as the odd push or carry.

Getting High

Hot air balloon fights are somewhat of a must when in Cappadocia—they go early morning and sometimes at sunset (weather dependent) and cost around US$200 for a one-hour flight. 


Visas are required to enter Turkey. For most nationalities they are best obtained online at

There is also a visa on arrival desk should you have missed the online slot.

Immigration lines at Istanbul’s main international airport are hideously long at times (up to an hour in each direction). Be sure to allow plenty of time for connecting flights, as most destinations require that you clear immigration in Istanbul and not at the regional port of arrival.

The domestic terminal is about a 15 minute covered walk from the international terminal. 


Turkey is certainly not an expensive place to visit, but it’s not as cheap as many south east Asian countries. Expect to pay around 30% less than you would in European countries and double what you would in somewhere like Thailand.

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