At first sight, the central Anatolian plateau seems an unpromising prospect. A large area is virtual desert, while much of the central plateau is steppe, blitzed by cold and heavy snowfall in winter and suffering water shortages in summer. Yet this region holds two landscapes any traveller to the country should visit – the azure Lakeland, where the lakeside village of Eğirdir is a popular starting point for hikers following the St Paul Trail, and the unique rock formations of Cappadocia, one of Turkey’s highest-profile tourist attractions. The cities too are well worth exploring. Kayseri holds a series of towering fortresses and venerated tombs, while Konya, once the capital of the Selçuk Empire, is the home of the Whirling Dervish sect, the Mevlevî, and the epicentre of Sufic mystical practice and teaching throughout the Middle East.
Further east, the area between the extinct volcanoes of Erciyes Dağı and the Melendiz range is Cappadocia. Here, water and wind have created a land of fantastical forms from the soft rock known as tuff, including forests of “fairy chimneys”, table mountains, canyon-like valleys and castle-rocks. From the seventh to the eleventh centuries AD, this was a place of refuge for Christians during Arab and Turkish invasions into the steppe. Churches and dwellings carved into the rock, particularly by monastic communities, and unearthly landscapes make it an irresistible tourist draw. At its northwest fringes, the modern city of Kayseri, set below the imposing volcanic peak of Mount Erciyes, harbours a wealth of Islamic monuments.