Other-worldly scenery and the best-value adventuring on Earth

There’s no better feeling than the notion that you’ve got ‘awesome’, but most definitely for a fantastic price. Years ago, we even had a Fall Line series planned around the concept. Before canning the idea because it was so difficult to follow up the ‘Japan on a Shoestring’ opener, where somehow I managed flights, transfers and a week’s accommodation/ski passes for just… £650.

Oh yes, that’s how much I like a tight budget! And I’m delighted to say, it’s only taken a decade, but finally via central Turkey and Cappadocia (with a big hand from the lira’s dramatic fall in value on global currency markets) I think I’ve found a worthy successor to that amazing, and amazing-value, trip…

colourful hand-made signposts in front of Cappadocia town built into the rock

All routes lead to Istanbul

Plenty of people see Kayseri – Cappadocia’s gateway airport – as being disadvantaged by having to route through the Turkish capital (if coming from the UK). But I’d not view it that way. Instead, do it right and it can be a bonus, the stopover nudge you need to explore the 15-million-strong metropolis that’s become a fixture on all those best-place-to-party-in-the-world lists.

Overnighting here last year – good location, huge double room, breakfast included – cost me just £50, with Booking.com having a raft of similarly priced options all rated as ‘Exceptional’ and scoring above a ‘9’.

Meanwhile, getting to all the bars, bazaars, basilicas and pretty much anything else you might want (even Taken film locations) is a doddle thanks to Istanbul’s numerous trams, reasonable taxis (as long as you barter) and under-a-fiver airport bus or metro.

I’m enjoying the lack of Health & Safety nannying. Just pop up that precipitous path to those rock houses is the suggestion

For the really intrepid, beyond the energy of Europe’s most-populous city, there’s also the ferry across the sea of Marmara for a day’s skiing or hiking at not-too-distant Uludağ resort (21 lifts). And with a pound buying twice as many lira as it did just 18 months ago, lift passes are a quite frankly crackers £16!

On the Gomeda up and up

Following an 80-minute connecting flight (alongside long-time Fall Line collaborator Mike Richards), and a surprisingly pleasant night in a cave (welcome to Cappadocia, land of rock and underfloor heating) we are searching out roof paintings and early civilisation.

black and white image of bulbous rock formations in Cappadocia, Turkey

The sun is warming our backs as we hike the day’s itinerary, and we all are… rather perky! Even Sierra, who’s journeyed to Turkey from Salt Lake City via LA. With a large part of the buzz because central Anatolia feels so different. The colours. The air. The everyday interactions (holding hands with your male friends is just fine, which seems, well, charming). Even breakfast is mind expanding: “Always salty items first,” coaches Arda, who’s helping document the trip for the tourist board, as a baffling array of small plates arrive in advance of my morning Menemen – the eastern take on scrambled eggs.

walkers head down a steep slope on smooth rocky terrain

I’m also enjoying the lack of Health & Safety nannying. Just pop up that precipitous path to those rock houses stuck high in the cliff band is the suggestion. And you know what? It’s marvellous. No ropes, no warning signs, just fridge-sized boulders and fallen trees to scramble over on the Gomeda Vadisi up and up.

As to the domestic arrangements on show, I’m less keen.

“The first inhabitants were here 4,000 years ago,” says guide Mehmet, ushering us into a series of hand-carved hollows, above the steep valley.

“Open plan,” says Sierra.

“Little bit draughty,” I add.

“The key is hard basalt on top of easily eroded lava and ash,” says Mehmet, ignoring our idiocy. And, as we peer at the roughly cut ceiling zig-zagged with vivid red, yellow and green designs, our leader for the day gives a resigned shrug, pronouncing the artwork “only Roman”. Well, what’s a few thousand years between friends?

two horse riders smile at camera in front of Cappadocia rock formations in Turkey

Not quite wild horses…

Cappadocia, and more particularly Hurmetci in the Kayseri province, is celebrated for the untamed mares and stallions that roam the lower slopes of Mount Erciyes, where we’ll be going shoulder-season ski touring soon. Yet fortunately at nearby Goreme, and the Dalton Ranch, our steeds – while possibly sharing the same bloodline – appear to have a good deal less va-va-voom. And rather than performa Lloyds-bank-style bolt across the barren expanse of Sword Valley to join the rest of the herd, their approach seems more along the lines of: quick saunter round the sights before some nice straw and a sit down please. Given my riding skills, this is very good news.

“Love those pants Jonny,” says Sierra (formerly of Powder magazine and now editor-in-chief of Ski) easily sliding a denim leg over her saddle. “Thank you,” I call back, putting a foot in the stirrup and appearing to engage horse-reverse.

“We call these trousers, and this model is two-layer Gore-Tex, manufactured to withstand extreme adventures and backcountry equine ejection.”

It doesn’t quite come to that over the next hour-and-a-bit, largely as we rarely break into a canter on the often tight, winding trail. But boy, does the scenery make up for the lack of pace, mixing gravity-defying volcanic stacks, that the locals call Fairy Chimneys, with multi-level often-triangular rock homes. It’s Moab meets red planet Mars, with a dash of The Flintstones. And all for under £25. Double that if you want to join the extended tour and watch the sun rise. Speaking of which…

Moving on up

We should be setting our alarms for 5am to try what millions of tourists (Cappadocia’s big in Asia) do every year – with baskets and burners soaring above the lava stacks and limestone spires in what Conde Nast Traveller calls one of the nine best places to go hot air ballooning in the world. But a storm front moving through means instead, it’s an exciting show-how-awful-you-are-at pottery session, before an afternoon mission to take on mighty 3,917m Mount Erciyes. And this inactive strato-volcano (that’s the conical, pointy one) is a beast. High, steep and just plain huge as it dominates the four linked ski areas (Develi, Tekir, Hisarcik and Hacilar) below.

Loading the Lifos gondola (on the Hacilar side) it’s clear that we’ll just about have enough snow for touring too. Although strengthening winds are less good news, meaning the higher Hitit chair’s out of action. We still manage a solid skin, topping out just below 3,000m, albeit in less-than-ideal conditions.

“Dusting on top of sharky as f***” says Elet Hall of Turkish Backcountry who’s leading us, alongside local guide Yakup. And it’s only later, deep in Wiki idiot-revision that I start to realise why. With lava a lot more fragmented, sharp rock than the fluid flow I remember from GCSE geography.

a red chairlift base station in Turkey, with a sole skier walking, skis in hand, towards camera

From Caesarea to chairlift

Choices, choices. And with Kayseri (Cappadocia’s main hub) only a 25-minute drive from the slopes, the international press corps is being shown both the Radisson Blu in the million-population city, and its sibling on the mountain. Other hotel chains are most definitely available. But possibly not as slick, or in the case of the Caesarea one (as Kayseri was formerly known) close to the castle, mosque or market. Oh yes, they have a lot of carpets! Me? While I’m enjoying the by-this-time quite usual unusualness of Anatolia– £1 pistachio coffee mixed with five-times daily call to prayer anyone? – nothing excites me like being on the mountain. And in the case of the Erciyes (pronounced Er-jez) Radisson that means straight on to the Develi area, or pedantically Develi Kapi, with all the linked zones having this word meaning ‘gate’ following their names.

Given our budget manifesto, we probably should not be here, even for a night, as the accommodation’s new, luxurious and with a price tag to match. But as I’ve just paid less than £15 in the ski shop adjoining reception for a full service (including base grind), plus spied various alternative cheap hotels (like the sub-£50 including breakfast Erciyes Hill) also at the foot of the slopes, I don’t feel too bad.

a trio of ski tourers head uphill on mellow slope

Starting out from the high-speed Kultepe chair, we’re soon following the upper part of the Zumrut lift, before touring up the long ridge (looker’s left) towards Erciyes’ upper lines. It’s hard work, under a hot sun, but crikey, the options up top, above where the Ottoman finishes at 3,400m – the highest lift in resort – are enticing.

However, just as we’re approaching the central cone a good few hours later, around 2pm, the majority of the face we’ve been lusting after releases. It’s a big avalanche and a worryingly close call (with hindsight we should have set out earlier given the heat, and assessed things far more carefully, with powder-lust partly to blame).

Yet sliding down the skin track– definitely not what we had planned – Mike and I can’t help but be enthused. It’s our third ‘big’ Turkish resort skied together (they have dozens ofJapanese-style locals hills too) and goes to the top of the list for terrain, touring, and, well, potential.

Just like all skiing here, thanks to the falling lira, it’s also brilliantly priced, with a pass that’s good for 14 lift rides coming in at £11. Given I’ve used just one credit today, that works out at 79p for six hours’ touring and quite a few powder turns.

“10 years ago there were just a couple of lifts and a short season,” says Erdem, our fixer for the trip and boss of Ski Turkish (a one-stop shop for UK skiers that don’t fancy a DIY trip).

“Today the mountain’s open for over five months of the year with two gondolas and 17 enclosed chairlifts. Their aim is not just to be seen as Turkey’s best, but one of the best ski resorts in the world.”

We will see, but you can’t say the mountain, and the moonscapes and fairy chimneys of Cappadocia aren’t memorable. And for the moment, wonderfully affordable, even with the odd night in a luxury hotel!


We flew Manchester to Kayseri (via Istanbul) with Turkish Airlines. Expect to pay around £350 return, including baggage allowance.

If you’re visiting Cappadocia you need a cave! The Seraphim Cave Hotel, where we stayed, is likely the best, at around £90 each if sharing a twin (although there are plenty of lesser alternatives if your budget’s blown). On the hill, the new Radisson Blu Erciyes is similarly priced (again there are cheaper options close-by), while the Radisson Blu Kayseri is ideal if you want to mix skiing/exploring the city from just £67.

For everything skiing, visit skiturkish.com
Click for Mount Erciyes resort
See goturkiye.com for the full monty of Cappadocia options/experience