Cappadocia by Mountainbike

The Ihlara valley, whose walls are honeycombed with rock churhes, is a perfect mountainbike course.

Three thousand years of history await the visitor to Cappadocia in the heart of Anatolia. To the north lies the Black Sea, to the south the Taurus mountains, to the west the Salt Lake and to the east Mount Erciyes, but the geography of Cappadocia beats them all for strangeness. Eruptions of lava from the now extinct Erciyes in the distant past covered the landscape with the soft tufa rock, which the winds of ages proceeded to sculpt into tortuous valleys and pinnacles. Here, troglodyte fashion, early Christians carved out the rock churches and underground cities for which Cappadocia is so famous.

With its ever-changing panorama and softly rolling roads, the region is ideal for mountainbiking. Between the towns of Aksaray to the west and Nevsehir to the east, every turn in the road brings new sights and scenes, both historic and natural, for the biker. MTBs (short, if you had not already guessed, for mountainbikes) are rapidly supplanting horses, donkeys and four-wheel drive vehicles for both the local people and tourists.

There are two main MTB routes around Cappadocia. One starts from Aksaray, takes the road east and then swings north to end at Nevsehir. The other starts from Nevsehir or Kayseri and goes in the opposite direction to Aksaray.

The 13-kilometre long Ihlara Valley (the ancient Peristrema), where the valley walls are honeycombed with rock churches, is a perfect MTB course. The path follows the stream down the valley floor, sometimes disappearing altogether, at others widening into a stone road. At several points it crosses the stream, and then the bikers have to be prepared to shoulder their bikes and wade across.

The valley proves not to be as wild and remote as it seemed, when cyclists come across women washing carpets in the stream and children eager to act as guides. The astonishment is mutual. From time to time the fastrunning stream proves an obstacle not to be overcome by the simple expedient of wading. The only answer is to shoulder the bikes again and clamber up the rocks back to the straight and narrow: a real off-road.

Cyclists not in search of such challenges can visit the Sultan Sazligi wetlands, a nature reserve 100 kilometres from Ihlara. This lake in the foothills of Mount Erciyes is entirely covered by reedbeds, which are home to 251 species of birds. Rowing boats give access to the northern sections of the lake.

For cyclists in search of a mountainous road, choose the alternative route to Sultan Sazligl over the 4000-metre Mount Erciyes. Getting up might take a lot of stamina, but the descent to the lake is worth all the effort. Bicycles are the ideal way to seethe bird sanctuary, where the only noise comes from the birds, insects and the breeze rustling the reeds. In this tranquil spot the quiet whirr of the wheels does not disturb the birds a whit.

The third lap of the journey is through Urgup, Goreme and Zelve, the openair museum of churches and hermit dwellings hewn out of the naked rock, and the rock pinnacles pierced with the apertures of doors and windows. In the heat of summer, cyclists can cruise along in a comfort not offered by cars and coaches. And they do not have to abandon their vehicles when the roads narrow to paths. The number of cyclists is therefore steadily rising in Cappadocia, which has been featured in several European and American MTB magazines as a cycling region par excellence. Cappadocia has been featured in MTB magazines as a cycling regionpar excellence.