Vira Natura

Botanical Wonders of Eastern Turkey with Denver Botanic Gardens

8-21 May 2025
From $3,725.00 per person

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. 

A 14-day tour with Chris Gardner


Day I     Arrive Goreme (8 May)

Travel via Istanbul to Goreme in Cappadocia a world renowned area with a unique landscape of eroded volcanic ash with canyons and towers. Dwellings have been cut into many of the features, some now converted to hotels, other house the remains of ancient churches. It also sits within a large tract of Anatolian steppe habitat. An early morning arrival** will allow us time to spend a full afternoon looking at some of the many sights. Overnight Goreme.
**Flight schedules currently allow an arrival at Nevsehir at 09.55 on 8 May.

Day II     Aksaray (9 May) 

We’ll morning the day travelling to steppe areas west of Cappadocia, where endemic Iris sprengeri will be in flower alongside Moltkia caerulea and other flora. There are also excellent areas close to Goreme with superb clumps of Arnebia densiflora bursting from eroded slopes, mounds of Convolvulus assyriaca, Scorzonera eriophora, large-flowered Salvia blepharoclaena, deep violet Gladiolus atroviolaceus and an array of Astragalus spp. Overnight Goreme.

Day III     Cappadocia (10 May) 

Both the scenic red valley and tower strewn white valley have some great plants as well as outstanding geology. A mixed day with some culture and some flora. Overnight Goreme.

Day IV     Drive from Cappadocia to Malatya (11 May)

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.

Today any participants not on the pre-tour will meet up with those just on the main tour in Malatya. Thus Day IV = Day 1 of the main tour.


Day 1     Arrive Malatya 11 May

Those joining the main tour will be met and transferred to our hotel in the city. Overnight Malatya. 

Day 2     Kubbe Pass (12 May)

The anti-taurus hold some fascinating and localised endemics. They are the only location for both lovely Iris peshmeniana 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. In the afternoon we will continue onto Tunceli, seeing roadside displays of the wonderful Tchihatchewia isatidea on the way. Overnight Tunceli. 

Day 3     Ovacik (13 May)

Near Tunceli is a population of the spectacular Fritillaria imperialis that flowers at this time sometimes with Iris aucheri. We will spend the day visiting this and other localities in the area. Overnight Tunceli.

Day 4     To Erzurum (14 May)

Closer to Tunceli are riverside woods with an array of orchids, including; Ophrys cilicica, O.scolopax, Orchis simia, O. punctulata, Cephalanthera longiflora and Dactylorhiza romana. We will also visit spend time in stony hills near Erzincan to see Muscari massayanum, the curious Phlomoides molucelloides and Linaria coriifolia before continuing towards Erzurum. Overnight Erzurum.

Day 5     Palandoken (15 May) 

The wild Palandoken rise up above the city. They are mainly serpentine and limestone and the receding snows will be crowded with Iris reticulata and Caltha polypetala. The red of Tulipa julia is common and we’ll see two contrasting fritillaries, the stunning pink Fritillaria alburyana and more sombre F. caucasica. If the season is favourable nearby water meadows will be blue with Bellevalia forniculata. Overnight Eruzurum.

Day 6     Tortum Kars (16 May)

The deep Coruh Valley lies to the north and the dry slopes that flank it are full of fascinating steppe flora with various colour forms of Iris taochia, Campanula macrochlamys, Scutellaria orientalis, tall Astragalus galegiformis, Glaucium corniculatum and much more. We will arrive in the late afternoon to Kars, a city perched on the windswept montane steppe plains at 2000 metres. Overnight Kars.

Day 7     Sarikamis and to Dogubeyazit (17 May) 

An early start is necessary for anyone wanting to see ancient Ani, a superb collection of ruins on the Armenian border. Afterwards we head into hills south of Kars which have many brown bears and also support good populations of one of Turkey's loveliest bulbs, Fritillaria michailovskii. We then travel through wide steppe and areas of coloured badlands to Dogubeyazit in the shadow of towering 5137-metre Agri Dagi (Mount Ararat). On the way we’ll see the incomparable Iris iberica Overnight Dogubeyazit. 

Day 8     Ishak Pasa and Tendurek Dagi (18 May)

The historical site of Ishak Pasa is perched above the town and the slopes behind it have some fascinating flora including the vegetable sheep; Gypsophila aretoides. Expect Tulipa julia, Matthiola odoratissima, Muscari caucasica and Campanula stevenii too. The journey towards Van goes via the immense shield volcano of Tendurek Dagi where we’ll see more Iris iberica, Fritillaria kurdica and Draba rosularia on barren lava flows where hidden gardens have Fritillaria pinardii and F. caucasica, Bellevalia pyncnantha and Nonea pulla, whilst adjacent slopes brim with mats of Androsace villosa. Water meadows will be full of Dactylorhiza umbrosa and Primua algida and we’ll stop at an area of waterfalls with some of the best stands of Iris iberica growing near the scarlet parasite; Phelypaea tournefortii. Overnight Van. 

Day 9     Akdamar and Zernek (19 May) 

We’ll take a short ferry ride across the calm waters of Lake Van to see the restored Armenian church on Akdamar Island. The afternoon will be spent in the steppe to the east, where Iris paradoxa, Linaria grandiflora and the peculiar Hymenocrater bituminosa will be flowering and the Zernek Valley will have a rich array of steppe flora. Overnight Van.

Day 10     Karabet Pass (20 May) 

A superb mountain area. Dry rocky slopes have Psephellus karduchorum, Muscari longipes and mounds of Aethionema grandiflora, together with populations of variable Iris sari. As we climb the displays of ice-blue Puschkinia scillioides increase and closer searching of the snow patches will bring a many beautiful bulbs; Fritillaria minima, F. minuta, F. kurdica, the big pink challises of Colchicum kurdicum, Corydalis oppositifolius and lovely pink Tulipa humilis. If the season is good, we’ll have a picnic overlooking the green valley of Bahcesaray below surrounded by great flowers such as Euphorbia macrocarpa, Iris caucasica and Rindera albida. Overnight Van. 

Day 11             Flights (21 May) 

Flights from Van to Istanbul for international connections.


(8) 11 - 21 May 2025



Per Person: 1240 USD

Single Supplement: 300 USD*  

Deposit: 200 USD

*for anyone joining both parts of the tour the Single Supplement is 800 USD.


Per person: 3725 USD

Single supplement: 600 USD

Deposit: 600 USD

Included in both parts of the tour (within the tour dates):

  • All accommodation 
  • All food
  • All transport
  • Entry Fees

Not included:

  • Flights
  • Travel/Medical Insurance
  • Alcoholic and soft drinks
  • Personal expenses



Minimum number of participants 5; maximum 16.  



Minimum number of participants 8; maximum 16.  


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