An uninspiring town in a stunning location, Tatvan hugs the eastern end of Lake Van and offers a launch point for a trip to Turkey’s second, secretive Nemrut Dağ. No, not the place with the big stone heads: this Nemrut is an inactive volcano that holds a breathtaking series of lakes (Nemrut Gölü), and hot springs in a volcanic crater. A dusty, one-horse town, Tatvan is nonetheless a convenient base for exploring the Selçuk tombs and Urartrian fortresses of Lake Van’s north coasts.Set back from the water, Tatvan’s services are all along Cumhuriyet Cad., its main thoroughfare, centered around Tatvan Park and the main dolmuş lot opposite. The new otogar is on the highway 1km north of town, but most buses will chop you at the town center. The tourist office is just above the dolmuş/taxi lot. Mehmet Salici (832 42 28) runs tours of the lake area out of the office. Pharmacies and ATMs can be found near the park, and the PIT (open 7am-11pm) is directly across the street.Apart from the flagship hotel Kardelen O, across from the PTT, most are bare- bones budget joints. The Kardelen has large, bright, freshly-painted rooms, TVs, minibars, a pleasant terrace restaurant, along with a pool hall. Mehmet, the concierge, speaks English and organizes tours. (827 95 00. Rooms $15 per person.) The best option among the midrange accommodations is Hotel Altilar , Cumhuriyet Cad. No. 164, which offers clean rooms with baths and TV’s. (827 40 96. Singles $8, doubles $13.) You would be wise to inspect the kitchens of Tatvan’s lokantas before you eat. Berivan Restaurant , Cumhuriyet Cad. No. 12, (827 10 51), serves meals from $1-2. Some of the best dining is actually ‘¿Vikm. out of town, along the north shore of the lake. Supan Adabag Restaurant has fresh, tasty kebaps ($3) and a breezy view- of the lake denied to downtown Tatvan diners.
Nemrut Gölü is a geographic marvel only 15km from Tatvan. Inactive since 1440, this volcano formed Lake Van by closing its outflow. Its vast crater one of the largest in the world at 49 sq. km—hides a series of crystal-clear lakes at 3050m above sea level. The 90min. taxi ascent costs $20-25 and includes two hours in the crater. The road is just barely navigable by two-wheel drive traffic. Hitching is not only dangerous, but also unrewarding, as the route offers no services and traffic flow is unpredictable. As the road clears the crater lip, the lakes of Nemrut unfold. Half a kilometer into the crater, road signs indicate left to the large lake (Büyük Gölü) and should be followed if time is limited. Turning right leads to a series of smaller lakes (less suited to swimming), cozy campsites, hard- to-locate hot springs, and miasmic thermal chimneys.
The route to the big (blue) lake is 2km long, after which vehicles must stop 50m from the water’s edge. En route, you will pass the small (green) lake, constantly bubbling from its hot thermal springs. Although swimming in the green lake is a bit unappetizing, thanks to thousands of scuttling red water bugs, the blue lake rivals Lake Van in tranquility, with the towering crater walls more than offsetting the appearance of the occasional sea snake. Descending on the northeastern side of the volcano, back toward Lake Van, the road passes Serinbayir Kilise, an old Armenian church. From the church, you can catch a view of the lake and mountains.
VAN’S NORTH COAST
Driving the remote northern coast of Lake Van is a highlight of Turkey’s southeast, though transport and hitching options are limited. Best Van and Van Gölü offer regular circuits around the lake. The recent detente in regional tensions has eased travel restrictions; the road is now open 24hr.The Tatvan (western) end of this route contains most of the important sights. First is Ahlat, with its famed Selçuk tombs (kümbets) and Hasan Padisah’s mausoleum. On the lake side of the highway is the Selçuk rococo Ulu Kümbet, flanked with basalt and ringed with several layers of running geometrical and Arabic friezes. On the other side of the road, the hours of the museum are erratic and collection meager, but behind it the crooked monuments of the Selçuk cemetery stretch on to a dizzying distance. At least nine mausoleums checker Ahlut’s landscape, of which the Boyinler cümbet stands out for its unique architecture—incorporating a demi-balustrade of eight columns and its intact Selçuk mosque.
Next down the road is Adilcevaz Kef Fortress, a farther 26km east, whose pretty white and red beachfront promenade stands in the shadows of two Urartian fortresses: Adilcevaz and Ket Kalesi. Perched on white stone cliffs, these castles guarded the northwest shores of the lake. Adilcevaz is easy to visit, but Kef Kalesi is in a military zone. Mehmet Salici, who runs tours out of tourist office in Tatvan (see Tatvan, above), organizes tours. A Selçuk mosque sits in Adilcevaz’s shadow.
Turn away from the lake here, travel 3km to the village of Aydınlar, and continue farther 6km up to Sarisu (taxi $10), with incredible lake views from the shoulder of Mt. Suphan at 2500m. Only extremely fit walkers should consider the 5hr. Suphan ascent, with a small freezing crater lake at the 4053m summit.