The Cappadocia Ultra Trail, Turkey
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 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.