For a journey through enchanting natural surroundings with a fascinating historical and cultural heritage to match, a trip that will feed your mind, you must visit Van. The spirit of the people in this part of Eastern Anatolia is more casual and relaxed, the city centre has an amazing urban buzz about it.

I have always wanted to visit Van, I think it would have to be the cats that were the biggest draw card for me. However when I arrived after a 15 hour bus trip from Cappadocia I realised that there was so much more to Van than just the cats. The shores of Lake Van are filled with hidden treasure to be found, there are numerous archeological sites, fortresses, fairy chimneys that make you feel like you are in Cappadocia in Yavuzlar village, Mount Suphan which is the third highest mountain in Turkey, Muradiye waterfall and the Van Castle to name but a few.

Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey so I was expecting to see an abundance of water sports. I saw nothing of the sort, instead there was a lot of construction of new picnic spots for the upcoming summer so families can sit on the shore and enjoy the beauty of the calm waters. A couple of ferry boats go out on the water daily. The only species of fish that can live in the saline – alkaline waters is the pearl mullet.

My recommendations for a short stay:

Stay at The Double Tree Hilton
Less than 10 minutes from the city centre, the rooms have a lake view. I received the warm choc chip cookie on arrival and then had as many as I wanted throughout my stay. Wifi was great and the room spacious. The famous Van breakfast was served. Public transport like a dolmus or bus could be caught just outside the hotel on the main road, so getting around was never a problem.
Stroke a Van cat at the university, entrance fee is 1,50TL.
I caught a bus to the university, once inside I had to walk a slight way from the Mosque. These cats are known for their soft, silky fur and green and blue eyes. You will often hear the term “ Van markings “which describes a mostly white feline with coloured markings which are restricted to its head and tail. They are often called “ the swimming cats “ because they are said to love water. I have never seen such active cats, they are far from cuddly, the room was a hive of activity as
they leapt onto poles, climbed and raced around. They were beautiful and the breeding program  at the university is there to work on increasing the numbers. There is a lovely gift shop inside.
Akdamar Church ( Church of the Holy Cross )
It was a church and has now been restored into a leading centre of religious tourism in Turkey.I caught a ferry from Gevas , it cost 15TL ferry and 10TL island fee. The ferry departs from the island after an hour which is located 3km out in the lake. In 921 Gagik Artzruni built a palace , church and monastery on the island . Little remains of the palace and monastery but the church is in excellent condition and the wonderful relief carvings are among the masterworks of Armenian art. With the imposing snow capped mountain range behind the lake and the remnants of snowfall earlier that week on the island I could only stand in awe and appreciate the
true beauty of nature that surrounded me.
Eat at Hisar Et and Balik restaurant in Remit
This restaurant has beautiful views overlooking the roadside and onto the lake. Most of the local people seem to order fish, ( balik) I was eating with a local family so we had soup to start and then a large platter mixed with lamb, pide ( Turkish pizza ), kebab, peppers etc. It was so filling and delicious that we could not finish it all.
Russian bazaar in the city centre
When I saw the name of this bazaar I had visions of goods imported from Russia like the wooden dolls, brightly colored costumes etc however it was just a local bazaar filled with items such as clothing , shoes, bags and so on. You can negotiate but there is just about zero English spoken here, the locals speak Turkish, Kurdish or Arabic in this region. Its not far from the main AVM just keeping asking the locals for “ Russian Bazaar “ and they will point you in the right direction.
A good spot for some local bargain hunting.
Shopping mall – coffee and waffle at Star Cafe 2000
Inside the Peihan AVM on the main road. Its spacious and has comfortable seating
with an open air terrace. The waffles are delicious. They serve a variety of traditional Turkish sweets and ice cream and the wifi was good. There was an interesting method to serving tea that had the waitress talking to me for a long time. The prices were good and the atmosphere welcoming and friendly
Speak to the locals
Even with limited english I found this to be a very friendly city. From the hotel staff, to the ferry boat, to the locals on the boat and on the bus , at the university ; basically wherever I went people tried their very best to speak to me. Take the time to speak, eat and sit with the locals its the best way to get to know about a place and peoples every day lives.
Van breakfast
Eating a scrumptious Van breakfast is an absolute must. The cuisine in the region is diverse and rich. The ingredients for the famous breakfast include herbed cheese, clotted cream, honey and butter. The wild green herbs gathered from the slopes of the surrounding mountains are added to the curd during the cheese making process and this creates an exceptional and unique taste. Other ingredients include murtuga ( eggs broken into flour fried in butter ) tereyagli cacik, strained buttermilk mixed with chopped local herbs, green pepper and parsley and kavut. All of these
dishes are served with slices of fresh bread baked in a stone oven and a local corek.

My stay was no where near long enough enough for this fascinating town, but it was enough to leave a lasting impression that is sure to see me return again in the future.

**** Fun Fact : Iskele High street of Van is the longest street in Turkey , and the second longest
in the world ( 7.500m) for Van Yuzuncu University for the Van cats