Being famous for its distinctive domestic cats, Van offers a ferry trip to a sacred destination- an evil eye bead for Turkey’s largest lake.

This remote but important city is settled in a verdant oasis at the foot of a rocky peak. An imposing ninth century BC citadel overlooks the new and old parts of the town. Steps carved in the rock lead to the Urartian fortress and halfway up inscriptions in cuneiform pay homage to Xerxes. Inside of the fortress are several Urartian royal rock tombs. In the old city the Ulu Mosque, Hüsrev Paşa Mosque, Kaya Çelebi Mosque and the İkiz Kümbet (Twin Mausoleums) reflect the Seljuk and Ottoman architectural styles. Van’s interesting Archaeological Museum is in the new city, inland from the uninhabited old district. Still very much part of a traditional lifestyle, the women of Van produce beautiful kilims (rugs) woven in blue, red and white patterns. The exotic Van cat that is a symbol of the city has thick white fur and eyes of one colour eachblue and green. The philatelic sections of major Turkish post offices have beautiful Van cat stamps for sale.

At Van İskelesi (Van Pier), friendly tea gardens and restaurants invite you for a break and Edremit, a holiday resort 14 km to the southwest, has nice beaches available for both swimming and camping. In the same direction is Gevaş, where you can visit a Seljuk cemetery with numerous decorated headstones and the lovely Halime Hatun Mausoleum.

“Van, the ancient Urartian capital of Tuşpa, tempts visitors with its location on the eastern shore of the lake with the same name.”

Lake Van, the largest lake of Turkey, is located at an altitude of 1720m and is ringed by beautiful mountains. Mount Süphan (4058m) is on the northwest side and the İhtiyar Şahap Mountains are to the south of the region. You can go around the lake, visiting several ancient Urartian sites as well as other places that represent the legacies of the various peoples who inhabited the area.

Some of the islands on Lake Van have monasteries and churches. Forty-one kilometres southwest of Van, Akdamar Island (a half-hour sail from shore) is the most important of these. On the island stands the 10th century Akdamar Church whose stone walls are richly carved with Old Testament scenes and figures. The church, hosting a religious ceremony once a year, now serves as a museum. After sightseeing, swimmers and picnickers can enjoy themselves around the island’s almond groves. Should you have time, visit Çarpanak Island to drink in its landscape and to wander around the 12th-century church, which is now a museum.

Among the interesting geographical features around Lake Van, the Muradiye Waterfalls, 88km north of Van, with a peaceful tea garden and restaurants and Gahnispi-Beyaz Çeşme Falls, 60km south of Van, are worth visiting.

Çavuştepe, 35km from Van on the Hakkari road, is an important Urartian citadel. It was excavated in 1970. Today you can see temples, a palace, a sacrificial altar and inscriptions there. On the pastoral, winding road to Hakkari, the Zernek Dam Lake offers itself as a resting spot on the way to Hoşap, 60km from Van, where a 17th century fairytale castle rises above a small hill. The interior is badly damaged, but the exterior walls, crenellations and turrets are well-preserved.

Kars, a transit point between Anatolia and the Caucasus, has an outstanding beauty in itself, magnified by Ani Ruins- a medieval city once called “City of 1001 Churches”.

Kars is located at the transit point from Anatolia into the Caucasus. Visitors can enjoy its monumental structures and historical fabric. However, when making your travel plans, consider the season as it is covered with snow for much of the year!

The city centre of Kars looks quite different from the ones of other cities. Older than a century, most of magnificent and elegant buildings built during the Russian occupation lie on both sides of wide streets that crosscut one another. Being still in use, these structures add to the city’s architectural legacy.

The city unfolds at the foot of its impressive fortress from the 12th century. Nearby, the Havariler Church (the 10th-century Church of the Apostles) reveals a curious mixture of architectural influences. Bas-reliefs representing the 12 apostles in rather stiff and primitive poses ring the dome’s exterior drum. The Archaeological Museum exhibits beautiful wood carvings, an excellent collection of coins found in the surrounding region, as well as many ethnographic items. Kars is particularly known for its distinctive kilims (rugs) and carpets, and it retains a strong heritage of folk dancing that visitors always enjoy watching. On the mountain pastures villagers produce excellent kaşar cheese and delicious honey.

Fethiye MosqueFethiye Mosque

About 42km east of the city, the medieval city of Ani (Ocaklı) lies mostly in ruins on the ancient Silk Road. Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2016, the Ani ruins with numerous churches, mosques and caravanserais are encircled by impressive fortified walls.

After visiting Ani ruins, you can drop by the ski centre in Sarıkamış with resort hotels set in a scenic pine forest. The centre offers a skiing season of 120 days through a year. Sarıkamış and the surrounding area are suitable for alpine skiing, ski touring and cross-country skiing.

The city is endowed with a safe haven, a wetland, a feast to the eyes of birdwatchers called Lake Kuyucuk that shelters over 200 bird species. The birds stop over at this spectacular gift of nature for breeding, nesting and feeding during the migration seasons. Spring and autumn are the ideal seasons for seeing tens of bird species together. Besides attracting visitors’ attention to the natural riches it is home to, the region of Kuyucuk has many places like Kuyucuk Village that history and culture fans would very like to see. At every corner of the village you can come by traces of the Doukhobors (a Russian tribe) who came over from Russia during the Ottoman-Russian War. Lining up along the street, the old houses catches eyes and hearts with their striking architectural features. Among the other cultural heritages reflecting that very same period are a church, later a mosque, and the village school building.

Archaeological Site of Ani

Lying on a secluded plateau in the Turkish City of Kars, Ani is home to military, religious as well as residential buildings and fortifications which trail back hundreds of years. These structures reflect the characteristics of the medieval urbanism that was formed within centuries by Christians and Muslims. It grew into a magnificent capital of the Bagradit Armenian Kingdom in the 10th and 11th centuries CE with a population over one hundred thousand and gained economic power by controlling one branch of the Silk Road. Even after coming under the sovereignty of Byzantines, Seljuks, and Georgians, it kept playing a vital role as a significant crossroads for merchants. However, the city started to go into decline after the Mongol invasion and a destructive earthquake that occurred in 1319. Through the technically and artistically advanced structures of the region built between the 7th and 13th centuries CE, this archaeological site provides the modern-day archaeologists with valuable information that unveil the evolution of medieval architecture.

Erzurum, containing a highly qualified ski resort, is like a haven for winter sport lovers who would like to ski for eight months on steep slopes carpeted by fine snow.

Erzurum, the largest city in eastern Anatolia, is sprawled over a high plateau at an altitude of 1950m. A road running through splendid mountain scenery leads to the winter sports resort of Palandöken, just 6km from Erzurum. It has a number of hotels as well as the longest ski run and the best snow quality in Turkey, thus making it a favourite haunt for expert skiers. It is one of the closest ski resorts to an airport; just five minute drive after your plane lands you can be out on the snow of Palandöken’s slopes, where the quality of snow is considered to be on a par with that of the Swiss Alps. Palandöken offers many opportunities to lovers of winter sports and is coated in fine snow that first falls in November and settles till June. Fog, a great danger for skiers, does not descend there. The weather is clear, the slopes are the longest in Turkey and skiing fanatics can marvel at the stunning landscape. It is also an ideal place to forget about stress and pressures of daily life.

The glassy Tortum Lake, 120km from Erzurum towards Artvin and the Black Sea, is perhaps the most tranquil sight in all Turkey. And then drive north of Erzurum to see the Tortum Waterfalls that will definitely put you in a more cheerful mood.

Although the collection in the Archaeological Museum reveals much of the city’s history and ancient origins, it is Erzurum’s architecture which portrays the city’s past the best The city walls and fortress remind that the wind of Byzantine rule once blew over these territories with the fifth-century citadel built by Emperor Theodosius standing on a hill at an altitude of 2000m. Of particular importance are the Seljuk buildings remaining – brilliant examples of a fascinating aestheticism. The Ulu Mosque was built by Melik Nasreddin Mehmet (Mehmet the Red Lion) in 1179; it has an unusual form with seven wide naves. The Çifte Minareli Madrasah, or theological college, built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat in 1253 astonishes visitors with elaborate stone carvings on its portal and its majestic double minarets. Behind the Çifte Minareli Madrasah stands the Üç Kümbetler, a group of three tombs, the most notable of which is that of Emir Saltuk. The 13th century Hatuniye Türbesi, a mausoleum, was built for Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat’s daughter. The beautiful portal and richly-tiled minaret of the 13th-century Yakutiye Madrasah unravel another facet of Seljuk architecture. You can see Ottoman buildings in Erzurum as well; Sinan the Great Architect left his mark on the city with Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque. Nearby stands the Atatürk House Museum where Atatürk stayed and held a national congress.

While wandering around the city, drop by Taşhan (Rüstem Pasha Caravanserai) to see the best collection of jewels made of the local black stone called Erzurum Oltu Taşı.

Bitlis, accommodating the largest Islamic graveyard, offers a deeper insight into a more peaceful everyday life.

The lively city of Bitlis stands in the middle of a green oasis. The city’s architecture uses the local dark stone, with stone monuments including the Şerefhan Madrasah, the 12th-century Ulu Mosque, the Seljuk Gökmeydanı Mosque and the Ottoman Şerefiye Mosque.

Nemrut Ski Centre in Tatvan county is a popular winter resort with one of the longest ski runs in Turkey . At one side of the resort is the world’s second largest Crater Lake and the beautiful Lake Van on the other. From Tatvan on the western shore of Lake Van (25km northeast of Bitlis) you can take a passenger and train ferry to Van across the waters.

Crater Lake, Bitlis - Photo: Orhan ÖZGÜLBAŞCrater Lake, Bitlis – Photo: Orhan ÖZGÜLBAŞ

The ruins of Ahlat, a once-important city for Turkish art and culture, are 44km north of Tatvan county on the western shore of Lake Van and they are today scattered among more recent constructions. Several mausoleums, notably the Ulu KümbetBayındır KümbetHasan Paşa Kümbet and the Çifte Kümbet, offer a comprehensive overview of Seljuk funerary architecture and decoration. In the Seljuk cemetery are beautifully inscribed memorial tombstones from the 12th century. The Ahlat Museum houses a collection of ceramics, ancient coins and jewellery. Modern Ahlat provides lakeside tourist accommodation, beach facilities and restaurants.

Ahlat, Bitlis - Photo: Gülcan ACARAhlat, Bitlis – Photo: Gülcan ACAR

As you move on and drive around the lake, you will come to Adilcevaz where the Ulu Mosque, built of the region’s dark volcanic stone, stands on the lake shore. 10km west of Adilcevaz is Kef Castle and the nearby Urartian temple of Haldi dates from the ninth century BC. Artefacts from this site are accessible at the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara and some column bases are on display at the yard of the Adilcevaz High School.