For the wide open spaces of Eastern Turkey you are much better off to drive around. Travelling along Turkey’s eastern edge by road is an exhilarating experience. The city of Van is located only a few miles away from Iran and Armenia and the landscape on each side is characterised by vast expanses of bright yellow mustard fields and flocks of sheep.
On the Armenian side you whizz past deep ravines pitted with ancient watchtowers, and it feels like travelling back in time until you spot the distant nuclear power plants of Erevan and are dragged back to the 21st century. The road follows a narrow river valley that widens as you approach Tuzluca and on either side you’re suddenly surrounded by some of the most beautiful and isolated landscapes in the world.
The roads around Igdir, Ani, Kars and Van are not state-of-the-art but they’re perfectly serviceable except when the heavy snows come in winter, and spring is probably the best time to drive in this region, when the heat is still tolerable.
The great lake at Van is 1720m above sea level and covers no less than 3720sq km, seven times bigger than Germany’s Lake Bodensee. The downer is that because of the natrium carbonate in it the water is undrinkable and it contains no living thing apart from a rare species of algae and the occasional whiting that comes in from the estuary. More romantically, its depth has never been measured and there are the inevitable regular reports of a monster in the local and national press, possibly to boost tourism.
The Old Town district of Van has a number of important ruins that survived from the brief Russian occupation of 1917, when they smashed up everything they could before eventually withdrawing. The imposing Van Fortress two kilometres outside the modern city is best reached by car and is well worth a look. Halfway up the 100m high ridge on which it stands is a platform of rock on which sacrifices were made to various deities, and on the southern side are the excavated tombs of Urartian kings.
Anyone with an Indiana Jones-style sense of adventure that seeks to join breathtaking scenery and exotic locales with a spot of archaeology can do no better than head for Van. There are several good hotels to stay at, and the food is an exquisite mix of Arabic, Turkish and Persian delicacies.
There are also many picturesque Armenian ruins in the region, such as the Ishak Pasha Palace near the foot of Mount Ararat, which looks like a fairytale castle as you approach it on the main road. Close up, it resolves itself into a fabulous mix of architectural styles derived from Seljuk, Georgian and Armenian influences. Mount Ararat itself straddles the Turkish border with Iran and is traditionally the final resting place of the Biblical Noah’s Ark.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.