Anatolia’s diversity laid bare on a journey from the emerald forests and deep valleys of the Karadeniz - the Black Sea coast and on through volcanic bad-lands across the vast eastern steppe to turquoise Lake Van. Dramatic contrasts are matched by the wonderful flora, including many exciting irises, fritillaries, squills, gentians, tulips and unique steppe flora as well as some wonderful historical diversions too; magnificent Ani, Akdamar Island and dramatically poised Ishak Pasa.
A tour with Chris Gardner
The higher slopes of the Zigana Pass will have plenty of Cyclamen parviflorum and Gentiana verna to get us started. On the far side of the pass are Cyclamen coum, Primula vulgaris, P. veris and Helleborus orientalis. If the season is forward enough we might find goos orchids in the hazelnut groves lower down too. From here we drive onto Ikizdere for the night.
The species-rich tall meadows that carpet the slopes in summer are the source of Anzer’s famed and expensive honey. It is too early to experience these 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.
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.
Leaving the verdant Black Sea region our scenic route rises through the dense spruce forests and perfumed rhododendron dells, past vibrant orange Papaver lateritium illuminating riversides with Hesperis matrionalis and Geranium psilostemon and then descends to drier steppe areas, hopefully seeing the scarlet bowls of Papaver pseudo-orientale on the way. Depending on the season, we might find Paeonia mascula too. Rocky slopes have populations of the wonderfully named and striking Tchihatchewia isatidea in places alongside spiny domes of Onobrychis cornuta smothered in cerise flowers. Overnight Erzincan.
Close to Erzincan a low pass leads to stony slopes with Muscari massayanum, Tulipa julia, Silene ruscifolia and Linaria coriifolia, whilst contrasting limestone rock outcrops have plenty of Saxifraga kotschyi above turf filled with Pulsatilla albana. The road to Erzurum passes roadside gullies with striking Arnebia densiflora and Hesperis breviscapa as well as more tulips. Reaching Kop Dagi we will look for the lovely Fritillaria alburyana and Crocus biflorus subsp. tauri. Overnight Erzurum.
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.
The ornate Cifte Minareli Medrasa lies in Erzurum’s old quarter and we will see this before departing for Kars. Today we will see the first fabulous bicolored Iris iberica in steppe and lava slopes. A detour takes us to a big population of wide-leaved Allium akaka growing on screes with fennels and blue Sherardia orientalis. More wonderful bulbs await in the afternoon as we climb to the higher plateau near Sarikamis to 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. Overnight Kars.
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.
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. After a picnic lunch, we continue our journey the landscapes change frequently from colourful bad-lands to undulating rugged plateau as we skirt the Armenian border seeing more Iris iberica and Bellevalia sarmatica on the way before reaching the Cili Pass, where if there is time we'll look for Gladiolus atroviolaceus and Anacamptis coriophora. There will be fantastic views of majestic Agri Dag (Mount Ararat) and our hotel is nestled right below it near Dogubeyazit.
Morning views of Turkey’s highest peak (5137m) are mesmerising at breakfast. Perched above Dogubeyazit, 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. As we travel to Van, we climb up and over the imposing shoulder of Tendurek Dagi. Stark, black lava flows sprawl across the landscape and harbour some interesting plants with Fritillaria pinardii, F. caucasica and abundant Bellevalia paradoxa, as well as rocky gullies with Fritillaria kurdica, Tulipa julia and Draba rosularis. Beyond, emerald water meadows have masses of pink Primula algida, Dactylorhiza umbrosa and creamy Pedicularis comosa. Near the waterfalls at Muradiye are more Iris iberica, maybe the tallest we'll see, growing with the startlingly red parasite, Phelypaea tournefortii. We finish the day on a steppe slope alongside the silken purple flowers of Iris barnumiae. Overnight Van.
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.
Another flowery route traverses areas of steppe with fine populations of beautiful Iris paradoxa and a multitude of steppe plants. The road rises to a pass with Tulipa koyunci, Anemone narcissiflora, Bellevalia rixii and sweet-scented Anconium elichrysifolium . On the other side are gullies with Adonis wolgensis and Gentiana verna, whilst the marly steppe might just have the first flowers of Iris urmiensis and stemless Centaurea vanensis too.
We’ll drive along the southern shore of the vast Lake Van to the departure point for Akdamar Island and then take the short boat trip across to see the beautifully restored Armenian church on the island. After lunch on shore, we'll drive to a water meadow with great numbers of Orchis laxiflora, the surrounding slopes another good places to search for Iris barnumiae as well as Salvia kronenburgii, and Phlomoides laciniata. Overnight Van.
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