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High on a honey-coloured Cappadocian hillside, a remarkable Frenchman set himself the challenge of restoring the crumbling stone houses in the village of Uçhisar. Today, lovingly brought back to life, they stand tall once again. David Barchard was bewitched. Photographs: Sigurd Kranendonk
A hot-air balloon ride brought les Maisons de Cappadoce into my life. Early one summer morning in 1996, along with three intrepid companions, I had touched down on a grassy plateau above one of those Cappadocian valleys of honey-coloured cones and pinnacles.
Stepping out of the basket, we looked up and found ourselves at the feet of a genial, quizzical Frenchman with a large Kangal dog. Unperturbed by our sudden dropping in from the skies, he gracefully introduced himself as Jaques Avizou, an architect and city planner from Albi, who in 1993 had set up the Société Semiramis in Uçhisar and embarked on a programme of restoring the nineteenth-century Cappadocian houses of the village. Would we care to come round later in the day and see the houses?
Anatolia’s new peat gatherers follow a rugged, self-sufficient way of life. But they are taking their toll on the rare flowers of the Turkish moors.
Wherever he went in search of books on Turkey for his collection, Omer Koç was dismayed to find that the mysterious Mr Atabey had been there before him. Then, in an apartment in Paris, all was revealed: the world’s most magnificent collection of volumes on the Ottoman Empire and the Levant - a veritable treasure trove of beautiful books.
Iskenderun and Aleppo were once vital trading posts of the Ottoman Empire. Today they straddle a border and are raffish outposts worthy of Graham Greene. Amicia de Moubray accompanied Iskenderun’s Honorary British Consul on a whistle-stop tour of the two cities. She discovered the legacy of liquorice and the East’s most enticing bazaar.
In the seventeenth century, Evliya Çelebi, the Ottoman traveller, praised the size of the pumpkins of Varna on the Black Sea: a single fruit could weigh up to 60kg. Today in the Balkans, the custom is to slice off the stem end of a ripe pumpkin, scoop out its seeds and pour honey into the cavity. The top is then replaced like a lid and the pumpkin baked in the oven.
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Veterans of the Peking-to-Paris rally know that if you can nurse your car across the deserts, mountains and yak tracks of the great Asian landmass and reach Istanbul in one piece, the final leg on Europe’s roads should be a cruise. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, an entrant in this year’s 90th anniversary event, sent home a diary of his - and others’ - adventures on this 12,000 mile marathon from Peking to Paris.