Ex­otic Desti­na­tion

The Cap­pado­cia Ul­tra Trail, Turkey

Canadian Running - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tos by Steve Thomas

There is nowhere else on Earth quite like Cap­pado­cia, in cen­tral Turkey. The chances are that you’ve vaguely heard tell of the place, and even morel likely that you’ve seen pic­ture-post­card-like im­ages of its Mid­dle-Earth-like land­scape, dot­ted with multi-coloured hot air bal­loons f loat­ing over­head. It’s like run­ning in a travel brochure for a place you never thought could look this majestic in real life. What makes the re­gion fa­mous are its nat­u­ral fairy chim­neys and cave dwellings, which have formed from a com­bi­na­tion of ero­sion and hu­man in­ge­nu­ity over some 3,000 years. Cap­pado­cia sits at a semi-desert cross­roads be­tween the East and West. Although it once thrived as a trad­ing sta­tion along var­i­ous in­car­na­tions of the Silk Road, it was its re­mote yet cen­tral lo­ca­tion that led to it be­com­ing in­hab­ited on a larger scale. Many dif­fer­ent mi­nor­ity groups sought sanc­tu­ary from per­se­cu­tion here, which is what led to the long-term con­struc­tion of its unique cave dwellings, re­li­gious con­struc­tions and to an ex­ten­sive and in­ge­nious net­work of un­der­ground cities, which were carved from the soft vol­canic rock and de­signed to be to­tally sealed off from en­emy in­vaders and to pro­tect the in­hab­i­tants from the sear­ing sum­mer heat and freez­ing win­ter tem­per­a­tures. The land­scape is to­tally be­wil­der­ing, al­most fairy­tale-like, and beau­ti­ful. Think of the Utah canyons and then con­dense them, throw in the fairy chim­neys, add a tow­er­ing snow-capped vol­canic peak as a back­drop and then sprin­kle with a rich and po­tent sea­son­ing of an­cient (and liv­ing) cul­ture. It’s mag­i­cal.

For those who choose to stay more than a cou­ple of days to take in the fa­mous sun­rise bal­loon rides the real treats of this un­esco World Her­itage Site await. The trails of Cap­pado­cia are some of the most im­pres­sive around. There are many steep-sided val­leys carv­ing their way through this sandy layer cake-like re­gion, each with their own unique feel, look, tales and chal­lenges. The great news is that they’re easy to find, and there are no re­stric­tions on where you can run.

Over­all, the go­ing is fast, nearly al­ways dry, fairly gritty, and sandy in places, un­du­lat­ing, at al­ti­tudes of be­tween 1,000–1,300 m. It’s re­ally easy to pin to­gether amaz­ing routes of ev­ery pos­si­ble dis­tance and in­ten­sity – a true trail run­ning par­adise.

The an­nual Cap­pado­cia Ul­tra Trail race be­came part of the Ul­tra Trail World Tour in 2017, and it’s a su­perbly or­ga­nized event, at­tract­ing around 1,200 run­ners from all over the world. There are three dis­tances on of­fer, and all take in the “golden tri­an­gle” of the re­gion, mean­ing that ev­ery run­ner gets to pass through the most fa­mous of the val­leys and see all the prime sights. Full-dis­tance run­ners head out into the real wilds, along re­mote trails that hardly any out­sider ever ex­pe­ri­ences – and it all hap­pens in au­tumn, when the desert re­ally does bloom.

Get­ting there

Get­ting to Istanbul is straight­for­ward – and if you f ly with Turk­ish Air­lines it’s easy to use Istanbul as an ex­tended stopover en-route to other des­ti­na­tions. There are sev­eral daily f lights (one-hour, around $120 re­turn) on to Nevse­hir and Kay­seri – the two main air­ports for Cap­pado­cia. Argeus Travel, the event or­ga­niz­ers, ar­range shut­tle­bus trans­fers on de­mand (around $20). See the main event web­site for de­tails.

Where to stay

The race starts and fin­ishes in Ur­gup, which has many ho­tels of ev­ery grade, but th­ese do book up on race week­end. About 15 min­utes away is Goreme, the main tourist hub for the re­gion, which has many great room­ing op­tions, while neigh­bour­ing Uchisar has fewer, and is more up­mar­ket. All are ideal bases for ex­plor­ing the re­gion on foot, and on the race route. Rooms can be found for $20, and for $160 you’ll get a lux­ury cave ho­tel.

What to do

This place is not to be skimped on. The trails and scenery are jaw­drop­ping, the un­der­ground cities, cave churches and struc­tures fas­ci­nat­ing, a hot-air bal­loon ride is vir­tu­ally oblig­a­tory, and sam­pling the great food and lo­cal cul­ture is a real treat.

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