16 days tour with Basak Gardner
Across the Anatolian heartland from Cappadocia to Van in search of beautiful spring flowers, fine landscapes and cultural treasure. We search for endemic fritillaries, irises and extraordinary steppe flora, tracing parts of the old Silk Road. Travelling from volcanic badlands and the wild mountains of Palandoken to the turquoise waters of Lake Van we also take in fabled cave-churches and impressive caravanserai as well as magnificent Ani.
Day 1 To Nevsehir (7 May)
After arriving at Kayseri airport we’ll transfer to our hotel in the heart of Cappadocia extraordinary landscape. Overnight Göreme.
Day 2 Göreme and Aksaray
The famed towers, caves and dramatic eroded hills of Cappadocia will provide the fascinating backdrop to the morning tour, which includes visits to noteworthy churches as well as key geological features. In the afternoon we’ll drive out to look for the highly localised and beautiful Iris sprengeri, although much depends on the season for success with this lovely flower. Overnight Göreme.
Day 3 Göreme and Caravanserai
Around Göreme are a number of interesting valleys and hills with Astragalus tigridis, domes of pink Convolvulus assyricus, huge-flowered dwarf Salvia blepharochlaena, Arnebia densiflora and Gypsophila venusta and bushes of yellow Rosa hemisphaerica. To the north of Göreme lies the carefully restored caravanserai at Kayseri Sultanhani and no trip along the Silk Road would be complete without seeing the impressive design of these quintessential buildings. Overnight Göreme.
Day 4 To Malatya
We traverse the Anatolian Plateau with commanding views of towering Erciyes Volcano and then we climb to the Gezbeli Pass with good snow melt bulbs including Crocus biflorus subsp. tauri, Corydalis erdelii, Scilla sibirica, Eranthis hyemalis and Anemone blanda. Passing through areas of dwarf oak we find black-purple Verbascum phoeniceum, mats of pink Aethionema diatropis, the impressive thistle-like Gundelia tournefortii and red forms of Fritillaria acmopetala. Our final pass of the journey is the Karahan Pass with the delicate orange and white Asphodeline tenuior. Overnight Malatya.
Day 5 Dogansehir
The limestone ridges south of Malatya are a stronghold for the lovely golden bells of Fritillaria aurea, which grows with Erysimum thyrsoides, Corydalis wendelboi and with luck the stunning scarlet parasite Diphelypaea coccinea. Overnight Malatya.
Day 6 Kubbe Pass
The anti-taurus hold some fascinating and localised endemics. They are the only location for both lovely Iris peshmenii and the even more localised Bellevalia chrisii – the flower named after Chris Gardner in 2014. Alongside these are Tulipa armena and Fritillaria armena, lovely multicoloured Nonea stenosolen and Lotus gebbelia. The road continues to the famous stone heads of Nemrut Dag, perched high above the surrounding landscape. We might find the first flowers of Iris sari here too.
Day 7 To Tunceli
Travelling across the steppe we reach a broad pass where if the season is right many Paeonia mascula will be in flower together with an unnamed Puschkinia species, whilst rocky canyons have Tulipa julia. Turning towards the bulk of the Munzur Mountains bare roadside banks have the remarkable Tschihatchewia isatidea, surely the ultimate steppe plant. If there is time we might travel along part of the Munzur Valley. Overnight Tunceli.
Day 8 To Erzurum
The oak woods around Tunceli and beyond are superb for orchids. Expect to Ophrys cilicica, O. scolopax, Orchis simia, O. punctulata, Cephalanthera longiflora, Dactylorhiza romana. Reaching Erzincan, we’ll find Muscari massayanum, the curious Phlomoides molucelloides and further chances to enjoy Tchihatchewia isatidea. Overnight Erzurum.
Day 9 Palandoken
The wilds of the Palandokens bristle with stands of poplars and multiple snow patches. Here there is the delightful pink Fritillaria alburyana, as well as its sultry cousin F. caucasica, Colchicum szovitsii and yellow mounds of Draba brunifolia. We'll descend to visit the ornate Cifte Minareli Medrasa and then onto water meadows near the city with stunning displays of thousands of blue Bellevalia forniculata. Overnight Erzurum.
Day 10 Cam Pass & Cildir Lake
Views of the fabulous Little Switzerland landscapes of the Yalnizcam mountains are enhanced with creamy Rhododendron caucasica. The broad pass has marshy flushes full of sky-blue Scilla rosenii and nearby slopes dance with the big, chocolate bells of Fritillaria latifolia. Growing with these are Corydalis nariana and drifts of Anemone narcissiflora. the wide open steppe landscapes beyond have rocky outcrops with Iris aphylla and there are fine landscapes around the big Cildir lake. Overnight Kars
Day 11 Sarikamis
The pine clad hills south of Kars harbour many brown bears and also support good populations of one of Turkey's loveliest bulbs, Fritillaria michailovskii. Other areas have Iris caucasica, screes brimming with pink Allium akaka, mauve Asperula arvensis and yellow fennels in a wonderful natural garden. We will also have our first look at the flamboyant Iris iberica subsp. elegantissima. Overnight Kars.
Day 12 Ani & Agri Dag
Right on the border with Armenia, separated by a deep ricer gorge, is the superb historical site of Ani, a complex of red tuff buildings from churches to mosques and caravanserai. The landscapes change frequently from colourful badlands to the looming snowcapped bulk of Agri Dag and it's surrounding lava fields. Overnight Dogubeyazit.
Day 13 Tendurek Dag
Depending on the season the lower slopes of this broad shield volcano have many lovely Iris iberica. Higher up are yellow Adonis wolgensis and rocky gulleys with Fritillaria kurdica, Tulipa julia and Draba rosularis. The stark black lava fields actually harbour some interesting plants with Fritillaria pinardii, F. caucasica and abundant Bellevalia paradoxa. Other greener lava flows are dissected by waterfalls with stunning stands of Iris iberica ssp. elegantissima. Water meadows have masses of pink Primula algida, Dactylorhiza umbrosa and creamy Pedicularis comosa, whilst steppe slopes near the city of Van have the silken purple flowers of Iris barnumiae. Overnight Van.
Day 14 Karabel Pass
A fabulous mountain pass to complete our trip. On the way the steppe will have the showy blue-veined white standards of Iris paradoxa and blue Moltkia caerulea. Snow patches are ringed by Puschkinia bilgeri, big Colchicum kurdicum and the dainty yellow bells of Fritillaria minima. Toffee-coloured F. minuta and F. kurdica also grow here with the delightful pink stars of Tulipa humilis. There are stunning mountain views, stands of yellow green Euphorbia macrocarpa mingled with Rindera albida, Iris caucasica and many more Tulipa humilis and Fritillaria kurdica in a wonderful natural rock garden. On our return we should find Iris sari in various colours and one of Turkey's finest the chasmophytes Psephellus karduchorum. Overnight Van.
Day 15 Akdamar Island
The beautifully resorted Armenian church on Akdamar island is a must and we’ll take the short boat trip across in the morning. After lunch we can either explore the southern shoreline of Lake Van with various orchids and steppe flora or return to Van for time in the markets and city. Overnight Van.
Day 16 Return flights