Just as it was transforming itself into a modern, buzzing city, VAN was rocked by a major quake in 2011. At the time of writing, reconstruction was under way, and many hotels, restaurants and bars were open for business. The region is well used to earthquakes, and despite the initial trauma there’s an air of steely determination to recover. Van itself, set 4km from Lake Van against the backdrop of the volcanic, 3200m Erek Dağı, continues to make a great base to explore the lake’s numerous attractions. Its highlight, ancient Van Kalesi, is spectacularly situated 3km west by the lake, where it overlooks the poignant remains of the old city destroyed during World War I.
Most visitors reach Van by road, along the scenic southern-shore route from Tatvan, which initially follows a pretty willow-fringed valley to the pass of Kuskunkıran (2234m), then descends through a checkpoint and along the lakeshore, with vistas of Akdamar and Süphan Dağı reflected in the still waters. The lake and mountain views are similarly spectacular if you approach Van by air, or on the erratic ferries from Tatvan.
Although Van is basically a conservative town, that’s mitigated by the presence of the large student population attending Yüzüncü Yıl university. Numerous bars litter the centre, where it’s possible to drink in mixed company, and listen to Turkish and Kurdish folk and rock music. Van is also a good place to shop, with a wide selection of local (Kurdish) tribal rugs, as well as often cheaper ones from nearby Iran, though you need to bargain hard to get a good price.
Following the winding down of the war with the PKK, the locals are increasingly asserting their Kurdish identity. In 2009 the pro-Kurdish DTP party won sixty percent of the vote in local elections, and the city’s central tea garden on Cumhüriyet Caddesi has been given a Kurdish name.