Due to its unique and active geological past, Turkey is full of natural wonders, many of which are protected as national parks, of which there are 40 in total to date. Not only protecting its rich variety of flora and fauna, many are home to archaeological treasures too. The coastal parks include areas of pristine coastline and beaches while inland there are marshes, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, forests and canyons.
In central Anatolia past eruptions of the now-extinct volcano Mount Erciyes have left behind the magical moon-like landscape of Cappadocia with its numerous white valleys and fairy chimneys. The hundreds of cave churches adorned with colourful frescoes and the underground cities are the legacy of the area’s inhabitants of many hundreds of years ago.
Turkey’s volcanic heritage has also meant that the country is dotted with thermal springs where steaming water heated deep underground has found an outlet at the surface. The Aegean region’s gem is the UNESCO world heritage site of Pamukkale east of Izmir, or ‘Cotton Castle’ in Turkish, a hot spring whose water cascades gently over giant calcified tiers. Crowning it is the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis, which was sited there precisely because of the nearby spa. Many other spa towns have grown up around such thermal springs where visitors today can come to seek comfort for various ailments.
Traversed by numerous rivers Turkey’s mountainous landscape means that many of its water courses are bounded by dramatic sheer drops in the shape of gorges and canyons with waterfalls along the way. Falls worthy of mention include those at Manavgat near Side and Duden close to Antalya on the Mediterranean coast. The flower-filled Butterfly Valley (Kelebek Vadisi), close to Fethiye and home to the rare jersey tiger butterfly, cuts through the landscape with dramatically steep sides of 350km terminating in a quiet cove and beach accessible only by boat. The Koprulu Canyon, whose dramatic waters rush through the gorge on their way to the sea close to Antalya, is justifiably a favourite with white-water rafters.
Eastern Turkey has a landscape of a different order altogether; a rugged terrain with snowy dramatic peaks, most notably Turkey’s highest Mount Ararat, rising dramatically from the plains and the awesome sight of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers which have their sources there. Lake Van, Turkey’s largest and the highlight of any trip to the southeast of the country, is a monumental and still indigo-coloured lake in a tranquil setting.