The town of Van, Turkey, lies in a beautiful, stark setting near the eastern shore of huge (2,000-sq-mi/6,000-sq-km) saltwater Lake Van, about 625 mi/1,005 km southeast of Ankara.

Transportation links are good, despite the remote setting: Van can be reached by air, rail or bus. The primary reason to go there is to shop for kilims and Kurdish weavings, to climb to Van Castle and to visit the beautiful 10th-century Armenian church of Akdamar, which is on an island in the lake.

The area is said to be home to the Van cat, claimed as a cultural icon by the Turks, as well as the Armenians and Kurds. Turkish Van cats have pure white fur and one blue and one yellow eye. (Outside of Turkey, the fur can have coloration on the head and tail.) In theory, they are able to swim, but in practice they are so valuable that their owners rarely let them out of their sight.

Other interesting excursions from Van are to the Hittite city of Cavustepe and the Kurdish castle of Hosap. On the western side of Lake Van is Tatvan, which is overlooked by a second Mount Nemrut—drive to the top for a spectacular view of the lake.

Two nights should be adequate for the region. Don't forget to factor in a leisurely breakfast—Van is famous for its Turkish breakfast plates laden with herbed cheeses and special honeys.

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