Two years ago, adventurers looked for new frontiers in Muslim countries. The Arab Spring quickly halted that, and today they’re retreating to Turkey—home to some of the wildest, if unheralded, landscapes in the region: pristine forests, mountain ranges, and two precipitous, gorgeous coastlines.
At first, following my pink-spandex-clad, partially toothless guide seemed unwise. He led us across rocky meadows with armpit-high weeds in central Turkey’s Cappadocia, a region with lunar landscapes and ancient cave dwellings. But the rocks gave way to a dozen miles of poppy-lined singletrack and a series of Seuss-like limestone hoodoos, which my group of 12 with Vancouver-based outfitter BikeHike Adventures had to ourselves. Rent a mountain bike from Cappadocia Hitchhiker in Goreme ($16) and pedal between caves in the Love, Rose, and Pigeon valleys. Crash in a renovated cave dwelling at Gamirasu Cave Hotel (doubles from $215).
Huffing up a narrow 800-foot, Ansel Adams–worthy gorge, I expected to find mobs of shutter-clicking tourists. Not in Turkey. At Aladaglar National Park, a 90-mile drive south from Cappadocia, there were only wildflowers, waterfalls, snowy 12,000-foot peaks, rare irises, and the occasional passing shepherd. For multi-day treks, book a guide like BikeHike, which can navigate the poorly marked trails and set up catered campsites. Or stay at rustic Aladaglar Camping (cabins from $29 per person) and explore the climbing and day hikes in the park’s Kazikli Canyon and Cimbar Valley.
Turks know sea kayaking. First rule: you need a motivating destination. In our case, it was Yoruk Ramazan’s restaurant, a pleasant two-mile paddle past limestone cliffs on the calm Mediterranean from Ucagiz, a tiny village in southwestern Turkey. Yoruk’s stunning bay views and simple menu—fish or meatballs—are best with a cold Efes Pilsener. Not hungry? Paddle 2.2 miles southwest past the restaurant until you see old temple ruins on shore. You’re over Dolchiste, a 2,000-year-old submerged city. Look down to see amphorae through 20 feet of clear water. Stay in the seaside village of Kas and rent kayaks from Dragoman ($35 per day).
ACCESS AND RESOURCES
May and September bring T-shirt weather to Turkey's coasts—and fewer visitors than midsummer. Several major carriers fly to Istanbul, and visas are issues on arrival. BikeHide Adventures' 12-day trips ($3,800; bikehike.come) include lodging, ground transportation, activities, and most meals.