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Last updated : Nov 2009
Cappadocia
Cappadocia - TravelPuppy.com
Southeast of Ankara, Cappadocia is a fantastic, almost surreal landscape of rock and cones, capped pinnacles and fretted ravines. Residences have been hewn from the soft, volcanic rock since 400 BC, and the sophisticated cave systems have sheltered generations of persecuted settlers. Today, it is a fascinating mix of truly outstanding scenery (as beautiful in the winter snow as in summer), an excellent destination for outdoor activities from mountain biking and hiking to hot-air ballooning, and one of the most compelling historic and artistic regions in this culturally rich country. Many people still live, at least partially, in cave houses and in the main tourist centres, there are a number of charming small hotels with cave rooms. The main towns in the region are Nevsehir and Urgup.

Göreme is probably the main attraction, with over 30 magnificently frescoed Byzantine rock churches open to the public. Zelve has a huge, somewhat strange underground monastic complex. The villages of Ortahisar and Uchisar, clustered around rock pinnacles and crowned by citadels, offer excellent views. There are over 400 underground cities in the area; two of the biggest and most exciting are Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, with up to eight floors and complex systems of apartments, public rooms and streets that could house literally hundreds of people. In the northern part of the area, Avanos is a pretty little town with a thriving local ceramics industry.

A short distance west of the main area of Cappadocia, the 10km- (6 mile-) long Ihlara Canyon is another Byzantine religious hideout, with around 60 churches, most of them still painted, carved into the walls of an idyllic green Shangri La.

The vast, empty expanse of eastern Anatolia differs greatly from the rest of the country. The landscape has a desolate exquisiteness, with ochre red plains and fertile valleys, lakes, waterfalls, snowcapped peaks and, in the far south, dusty deserts. This again is a fascinating cultural and historic area, stuffed with Biblical and Islamic history, Kurdish and Armenian cultures, fine mosques, palaces and monuments. The region has suffered a degree of political instability and lack of security for several years and is only just reopening to tourists, who should take up-to-date advice before visiting the area. It is far less developed for tourism than western Turkey; accommodation can be very basic and is often hard to find. Eastern Turkey can be said to begin along a rough line from Samsun, on the Black Sea Coast, through the Anatolian towns of Sivas and Tokat, noted for their Selçuk architecture, to the busy industrial town of Gaziantep in the south.

Erzurum, the largest town in the northeast, was one of the eastern bastions of Byzantium for many centuries, and has mosques and mausolea from the Selçuk and Mongol eras, Byzantine walls and two Koranic colleges characterised by minarets and finely carved portals. The frontier town of Kars, to the north of Erzurum, is dominated by a formidable 12th-century Georgian fortress. The ruins of the 10th-century Ani lie east of Kars.

On the eastern border with Armenia, Agri Dagri is the biblical Mount Ararat where, according to legend, Noah's Ark came to rest. Below it lie the imposing palace and mosque of Ishak Pasha at Dogubeyazit. The walled town of Van, on the eastern shore of the immense Lake Van, was an important Urartu fortress from 800-600 BC. The citadel dominates the ruins of Selçuk, Ottoman mosques and numerous rock tombs. On the island of Akdamar, in Lake Van, is the enchanting 10th-century Church of the Holy Cross.

Further south, the twin rivers Tigris and Euphrates, cradle an agriculturally rich oasis within the desert. This is Biblical Mesopotamia and, some say, the original Garden of Eden. Today, the GAP Project is creating an enormous series of interlinked lakes and canals to create hydro-electricity and irrigation, to the fury of neighbouring countries who also rely on the water, and the local Kurkish people who see their homeland slipping from their grasp forever. Its centrepiece, the Atatürk Dam, is the fourth-largest in the world.

The southeast is filled with ancient cities, traditional cultures and compellingly beautiful, if often forbidding, landscapes. Places of note include Sanliurfa, site of the ancient pools of Abraham; the strange beehive houses of Harran, from where Abraham decided to move to the land of Canaan; Nemrut Dagi, the home of the enormous stone statues erected by King Antiochus I in the first century BC; Diyarbakir, built in the fourth century and surrounded by forbidding triple walls of black basalt; and the white-coloured medieval architecture and Roman citadel of Mardin.

Turkey may not be the obvious ski destination, but it does have a number of winter sports resorts, generally located in forested mountains of average height. The main season is from January to March.

The following ski centres are easily accessible by road or Turkish Airlines domestic flights:

Erciyes: 25km (15 miles) from Kayseri (Cappadocia);

Koroglu
: on the Istanbul-Ankara highway, 50km (30 miles) from Bolu and the Black Sea coast;

Palandoken
: 5km (4 miles) from Erzurum (central-eastern Anatolia);

Saklikent: 48km (30 miles) north of Antalya, in the Bakirli Dagi mountain range (Mediterranean Coast);

Sarikamis
: near Kars (far eastern Anatolia);

Uludag
: 36km (22 miles) south of Bursa (Marmara).
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