With its stately, pastel-coloured stone buildings dating from the Russian occupation, and its well-organised grid plan, Kars looks like a slice of Russia teleported to northeastern Anatolia. And the city's mix of influences – Azeri, Turkmen, Kurdish, Turkish and Russian – adds to its distinct feel. No wonder it provided the setting for Orhan Pamuk's acclaimed novel Kar (Snow).
Kars is usually regarded as a base for Ani, but it's worth spending a day exploring its sights, soaking up the eclectic vibe, and sampling the delicious local bal (honey) and peynir (cheese). It also makes a convenient base for exploring remote villages and sights in the surrounding steppe.