Ani is area often over looked by tourists, probably because of its distance from other major tourist attractions this magical wonderland is one of Turkeys best kept secrets. With its snow capped mountains, ancient ruins, steel – grey sky in winter and rich history it has been spared from the over – development that plagues other areas of the country.

The region is also home to some of the best honey and cheese in Turkey. Just about every street in the town boasts a cheese and honey shop.Tending bees, herding live stock and cooking traditional food is very much away of life here. Organic honey is farmed on the vast plains of Kars, it is also said that due to the lightly sweet honey of the region, Kars honey – soaked baklava is famous all over Turkey. The region is widely believed to be the birthplace of the Caucasian bee, the bee sub – species with the longest tongue, which allows it to drink nectar from even the deepest of the region’s 500 endemic wildflower species.

Cheese making was introduced during the Russian era 1875 – 1925. The cheeses are large wheels of a tasty cheddar style made from unpasteurised sheep milk and are displayed beautifully in shop windows. Kasar ( a gruyere – like cheese unique to the Kars province ) can be young, aged or with crunchy ‘ crystals ‘ reminiscent of those found in good parmesan reggiano. Cheese is an essential part of the local breakfast, there are many varieties ranging from the string cheese called cecil peynir , kasseri cheese ,cakmak cheese and many others.

Orhan Pamuk mentions Kars in his novel – Snow. His Kars is a desolate , unfriendly city thick with intrigue and foreboding. His novel was set during a particularly harsh winter ( Kar translates to snow in English ) Kars was the last Ottoman outpost before Russia, its time as part of the Empire is evident in what Pamuk calls “ Russian houses “ many of which are broken , empty and built of large grey stone blocks.

With so much to see these are some of my recommendations

Kars Castle

Dating back to around 1153, the castle with its dark brown stone walls crowns the ridge that dominates the cities northern edge. Destroyed and rebuilt many times , the structure saw the most damage during the 40 year Russian occupation after the Ottoman Turkish War. Below runs the winding Kars river flanked by historic mosques and bridges. Best time of the day is just before sunset , where from various vantage points one can appreciate the panoramic views. Kale Cafe is perfect for a hot cup of cay especially on those cold winter nights when the castle becomes veiled in a heavy mist that swallows up everything below. The castle lights barely manage to penetrate the haze that is eerily mysterious yet curiously sublime.

Kars Castle

Kumbet Camii

Below the castle stands the Kumbet Mosque also known as the Cathedral of Kars, that was built as a church between 932 and 937 when Kars was the capital of the Bagratuni kingdom of Armenia. Later it was converted to a mosque, in 1064 when the Seljuks conquered Kars. It was used again as a church in the 19th century by the Russians, who added the porches. The 12 apostles still adorn the upper drum tower beneath the dome. The mosque also served as the ‘ Kars Museum ‘ between 1964 and 1978 but the museum then moved back to its current location.

Kumbet Mosque – Church of 12 Apostles

Tas Bridge

The eye catching 3 arch ashlar basalt bridge that crosses over the Kars River, was built in 1579 as part of a program of works in Kars by Lala Mustafa Pasha, who became Sultan Murad III’s grand vizier the following year. It was rebuilt in 1719 replacing the 16th century original after it was destroyed by a flood.

Stone Bridge over Kars River

Mazlum Aga Hamam

It is said that Pushkin bathed in this rectangular 18th century basalt hamam in 1892. It stands on the banks of the Kars River below the castle. During the restoration process of the historical bath, which began in 2016, bat wings and star figures from the Ottoman period where uncovered from under the plaster work. During the Ottoman period such places where used as saunas , the hamam was built from cut stone and covered with a central dome. The bath was destroyed by the Armenians in 1918 and later repaired.

Mazlumaga Hamam


No trip to Kars is complete without visiting to breath taking ruins of Ani. Called the “ City of 1001 Churches “ Ani stood on various trade routes and its many religious buildings , palaces and fortifications were amongst the most technically and artistically advanced structures in the world. Once the thriving capital of the Armenian Bagratid Kingdom, with approximately 100 000 people living there,the site now days is a vast expanse of well preserved monumental buildings. In the valley below runs a rivers that separates the Turkish and Armenian border. It was recognised as a sovereign state in 884, over the centuries it faced many wars and attacks then in 1920, Ani was captured by Turkish forces under the authority of Kazim Karabekir. In July 2016 Ani was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a relic historic city of the medieval period on one branch of the Silk Roads.


Hotel Katerina Sarayi

A former palace, this stately grand stone built hotel with the Castle as its back drop and the Kars River flowing in front is an ideal location. The Palace of Catherine was built by Tsar 11 Nikolay during the Russian invasion of 1879. Later it was used as a hospital then a military unit building. During the 1980 revolution the building was completely evacuated and abandoned and left to its fate. In 2015 the once magnificent building was restored to its former glory by businessmen Kemal Erdogdu of Kars and introduced as a boutique hotel with its 34 rooms.

Katerina Sarayi Hotel

Sutlu Cardak

A delightful, bright and bustling restaurant, walls painted with quirky images ranging from cats to the “ photo wings “ I found myself a favourite seat next to a window but more importantly it was the comfort of being able to sit snuggly next an electric heater and defrost on occasion. Perfectly located within walking distance of the Castle its ideal to stop at for a delectable breakfast or after your day out exploring. I rapidly became a regular and found every meal to be fresh and served with perfection. One of my favourite dishes had to be the Manti ( Turkish ravioli ) the little white parcels were wonderfully fresh , filled with meat and drenched in yoghurt. There is no english spoken here but the menu has ample images, so a simple finger pointing at the most mouth watering picture will do . No meal is complete without a Turkish coffee before wrapping up and heading out to explore some more.

Sutlu Cardak

Ahsap Sanat Dunyasi – curio shop

Not only a curio shop but also a hobby shop. Having been in Kars for about 3 years the shop owner Yavuz Guney offers a variety of options to make a special gift. Working with wooden products he will laser write anything you want, products range from wooden notebooks, wall clocks, photo frames, family trees to little wooden houses complete with tables and chairs. Nothing is to big or to small a project. The shop also has postcards depicting scenes of the area, beautifully framed images of the Kars region and Ertugrul style hats – medieval handmade fur hats ideal for the cold Anatolian winter.

Ahsap Sanat Dunyasi souvenir shop

Busts of leaders

Busts of historical figures lined up outside the Kars municipality giving recognition to past leaders

Busts of leaders near Kars Castle

If its a gurgling river weaving through the city of Kars, windswept plateaus , or the eerie ghost city of Ani with its wrecks of stone buildings that stand ominously adrift a sea of undulating grass that makes you ponder about this once stately Armenian capital. Dont hesitate , take yourself off like many travellers before us and explore the poignant ruins and imagine how merchants and nobleman alike did business along this stretch of the Silk road.