Anatolia’s diversity laid bare on a journey from turquoise Lake Van, across the vast eastern steppe and volcanic bad-lands to the emerald forests and deep valleys of the Karadeniz - the Black Sea coast. Dramatic contrasts matched by the wonderful flora and some wonderful historical diversions too; magnificent Ani, Akdamar Island and dramatically poised Ishak Pasa. The sculpted ash world of Cappadocia completes the eastern experience.
A tour with Basak Gardner
Day 1 Arrive in Van & Akdamar Island (22 May).
After arriving at Van airport in the morning we’ll transfer to our hotel and freshen up. Then we will get a first experience of steppe flora as we look for the Iris paradoxa with showy blue-veined standards as well as other delights such as and blue Moltkia caerulea. Then, we’ll drive along the southern shore of the vast Lake Van to the departure point for Akdamar Island. After lunch back onshore we will take the short boat trip across to see the beautifully restored Armenian church on the island. Overnight Van.
Day 2 Karabel Pass
A fabulous mountain pass where snow patches are ringed by Puschkinia bilgineri, masses of ice-blue P. scillioides, 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 on the roadside rocks. Overnight Van.
Day 3 Tendurek Dag
As we travel beyond Van, we start the day with the silken purple flowers of Iris barnumiae. A second beauty follows with the fabulous bicolored Iris iberica, near the waterfalls at Muradiye where they grow with the startlingly red parasite, Phelypaea tournefortii. The stark black lava fields beyond harbour some interesting plants with Fritillaria pinardii, F. caucasica and abundant Bellevalia paradoxa as well as rocky gulleys with Fritillaria kurdica, Tulipa julia and Draba rosularis. Emerald water meadows in between the rocks have masses of pink Primula algida, Dactylorhiza umbrosa and creamy Pedicularis comosa. Overnight below the towering Agri Dagi (Mount Ararat) near Dogubayazit.
Day 4 Ishak Pasa & Cili Pass
Morning views of Turkey’s highest peak (5137m) are mesmerising at breakfast. Perched above Dogubayazit, on a dramatic jagged ridge and overlooking the old Silk Road between Turkey and Iran is the eclectic Ishak Pasa palace, an interesting UNESCO site. Following our morning visit here we’ll drive onto the nearby Cili Pass with more stunning views of Agri Dagi along the way. Here are more populations of Iris iberica, cultivated areas have plenty of Gladiolus atroviolaceus, whilst on short turf are Anacamptis coriophora, the lemon drops of Onosma araratica and pretty Polygala anatolica. Continuing our journey the landscapes change frequently from colourful bad-lands to undulating rugged plateau as we skirt the Armenian border seeing more Iris iberica populations on the way. Overnight Kars.
Day 5 Cam Pass
Another outstanding frit is the target today – Fritillaria latifolia. Its big chocolate cuboid flowers occur by the hundreds on the slopes of the Cam Pass, growing with Corydalis nariniana, Anemone narcissiflora, ice-blue Scilla rosenii and Fritillaria caucasica. Big displays of both Scilla rosenii and S. sibirica subsp. armena can also be seen, bisected by rivers of golden Caltha polypetala. Cresting the pass we will have magnificent views of the Kackar Mountains. On the way back to Kars we’ll also stop for the rich purple flowers of Iris aphylla that grow in a stark boulder strewn landscape. Overnight Kars.
Day 6 Ani & Sarikamis
Right on the border with Armenia, separated by a deep river gorge, is the superb historical site of Ani, a complex of red tuff buildings from churches to mosques or caravanserai and the morning will be spent here. More wonderful bulbs await in the afternoon as we climb to the higher plateau near Sarikamis and pine woods, which conceal populations of gold-rimmed Fritillaria michailovskii, one of the loveliest of all frits. Pale yellow Dactylorhiza flavescens and F. caucasica grow with them and adjacent damp meadows have drifts of B. paradoxa. From here we continue across big landscapes to Erzurum, located beneath the wild Palandoken Daglari. Overnight Erzurum.
Day 7 Palandoken Mountains
The wilds of the Palandoken Mountains 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. With luck we’ll find Iris reticulata and red Tulipa julia too. We'll descend to visit water meadows near the city with stunning displays of thousands of blue Bellevalia forniculata. Overnight Erzurum.
Day 8 To Ikizdere
The ornate Cifte Minareli Medrasa lies in Erzurum’s old quarter and we will see this before departing for the verdant Black Sea region. Our scenic route has populations of the wonderfully named and striking Tchihatchewia isatidea in places alongside spiny domes of Onobrychis cornuta smothered in cerise flowers. The landscape then switches from steppe to lush green, with dense forests of spruce and beech. Dells of Rhododendron luteum will be filling the air with perfumed from trusses of golden flowers and vibrant orange Papaver lateritium illuminate riversides with Hesperis matrionalis and Geranium psilostemon. Our comfortable spa hotel is set beside a rushing river surrounded by emerald green. Overnight Ikizdere.
Day 9 Ovit Dagi
The rugged high mountains of Ovit Dagi provide the backdrop as we explore wonderful alpine turf and rocky slopes with Gentiana pyrenaica, violet-pink Primula elatior subsp. meyeri, P. auriculata, Corydalis conorhiza and intense blue Gentiana verna, whilst Caltha polypetala chokes the snow melt streams next to patches of Colchicum szovitsii and wonderful drifts of Muscari armeniaca. A side road takes us to another area where the meadows will be gaining strength with huge numbers of Anemone narcissiflora, alongside Aquilegia olympica and Orchis mascula amongst extensive shrubberies of Rhododendron caucasicum decked in creamy trumpets. Overnight Ikizdere.
Day 10 Anzer Yaylasi
The species-rich tall meadows that carpet the slopes in summer are the source of Anzer’s famed and expensive honey. But even now there is a tremendous amount to see with Iris histrioides, Trollius ranunculinus, Crocus aerius and Scilla woronowii near the snows, the pretty cushions of Draba polytricha on the rocks among turf dotted with Viola altaica. Dactylorhiza euxina will be flowering in wet meadows and the lower reaches have stands of rhododendron and peculiar Pedicularis willhelmsiana. Overnight Ikizdere.
Day 11 Sumela & Zigana Pass
Recently restored, the renowned Sumela Monastery (UNESCO) is dramatically positioned on the face of a sheer cliff, nestled among dense beech forest. We will visit the monastery in the morning and then move on for a picnic lunch. Hazelnut production is a big industry here and it creates the perfect habitat for orchids, which will find in clearing and edges with Ophrys scolopax subsp. oestrifera, Neotinea tridentata and with luck the first Orchis stevenii, a rather localised gem. If we have time we will drive higher to the pass to look for Cyclamen parviflorum, Gentiana verna, the woolly pagodas of Ajuga orientalis, masses of Primula vulgaris and sulphurous P. veris. Overnight Trabzon.
Day 12 To Göreme (by internal flight)
Turkey is a large country and to cover the distance between Trabzon and Cappadocia more comfortably we will fly via Istanbul, arriving in the early afternoon and in time to visit and walk in one of the famed scenic valleys. Overnight Göreme.
Day 13 Göreme and churches
Around Göreme are a number of interesting valleys and hills with Astragalus tigridis, domes of pink Convolvulus assyricus, huge-flowered dwarf Salvia blepharochlaena and Gypsophila venusta and the spectacular steppe plant Arnebia densiflora with dense heads of golden yellow. The churches are all UNESCO sites and there will be the chance to visit some of these. The afternoon will be spent exploring more of the unique landscapes and the plants that live there. Overnight Göreme.
Day 14 Göreme and caravanserai
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. Close to Göreme lies the carefully restored caravanserai and no trip along the Silk Road would be complete without seeing the impressive design of these quintessential buildings. Overnight Göreme.
Day 15 Flights home (5 June).
Morning flight from Nevsehir to Istanbul for connections to Europe.