A TURKISH WINTER WONDERLAND
There's nothing more magical than a blanket of snow over a thick forest. A landscape can be completely transformed from unfriendly and barren to a magical winter wonderland. Snow just makes everything look so beautiful!
Last winter I planned a trip to Istanbul with some friends. Istanbul is a city buzzing with life, no matter what time of year you visit it. But I was really craving nature and wanted to venture out of the city for a couple of days to explore some mountains and lakes.
Turkey is a country with a diversity of landscapes and climates and it makes it a very interesting place to explore. I decided that winter would be a good time to visit the 'Abant Nature park' which lies in the Bolu province, approximately 275 kilometers east of Istanbul. It is dense forest that lies 1328 meters above sea level and is breathtaking when covered in a blanket of snow in the winter.
Just two days before arriving in Istanbul a cold front swept over Turkey dumping several inches of snow over the mountains and highlands. I was ecstatic!!! A little white would be better than nothing.
On the way to Abant the driver suggested that we stop at Kartepe, the closest ski resort to Istanbul (approximately an hour 45 minutes from the city) as they had had a lot of snow. Ski season hadn't officially begun, and it would be nice and quiet.
Kartepe means snowy hill in Turkish. Expecting a little bit of pre-season white, I was shocked that this snowy hill in fact looked a lot more like NARNIA!
After spending some time walking through knee deep snow and enjoying the marvel of weather our driver said it would be safer to make our way to Abant otherwise there was a strong possibility the heavy snow would cause road closures. We began our descent from the mountain and stepped back through the wardrobe leaving all the snow and Narnia behind.
We stopped to have lunch at a place called Sopeli Doğal Yaşam Köyü in Sakarya. A quaint little rest stop where autumn was still clinging on to the trees. We warmed up by the fireplace and had a delicious Turkish lunch at Siyahkuğu Steakhouse.
Right after lunch it had begun to snow in Sakarya and we were back on the road again with over an hour's drive to reach Abant. It was almost dark and snowing heavily when we arrived at the Abant Aden Boutique Hotel and Spa, our accommodation for the night. The hotel lies en route to lake Abant. This cute family run hotel decorated mainly in stone and wood has a lovely warm feel to it. It has 24 rooms, half of which are double occupancy and the other half are duplex and can accommodate three people. The duplex rooms have a single bed on the main floor and a king size bed in the upper bedroom. The staff are very welcoming and helpful although not all may be English speaking. Thankfully the Turkish I had learned over the past year came in handy. Regardless the service was great, and the staff were always smiling and helpful.
After dinner we sat outside in the hotel's open-air veranda under the heaters sipping Turkish tea and watching the snow fall.
We awoke to a beautiful white day and had a wonderful Turkish breakfast before hitting the road again. As we got closer to lake Abant a fog had started to descend giving the entire area a mystical feel. Abant lake is surrounded by tall pine trees and there are so many beautiful spots to take photos. It can get really cold there in winter and it is highly advisable to wear a good puffer jacket, snow shoes and good gloves (I actually had two layers of gloves on!!) As it got too cold for comfort some of us decided to get back into the car. We drove up a bit and stopped for some hot chocolate at the Abant Gol Restaurant. With temperatures dropping to -7 the hot cocoa was much needed.
As the fog lifted and sun came out we decided to get out of the car again and try the traditional red horse drawn carriage ride around the lake. Some of us decided to be a little more adventurous and go horse riding. Abant is mostly quiet and serene with incredible scenic views. A must for nature lovers!
It was time to leave beautiful Abant but we had to make one last stop on our way down the mountain. It was time for lunch and we stopped at a restaurant called Şömine Et Mangal ve Kahvaltı Evi which literally means 'Fireplace meat barbecue and breakfast house'. The food was really good, in particular the sucuk and fresh yogurt. Of course, nothing completes a meal in Turkey like hot Turkish tea and a kunefe, which we decided to have outside on the balcony whilst enjoying the view and the sound of running water from the stream below. If you love nature and good food you really can't go wrong in Abant. It has picnic spots everywhere and wonderful local food. What made it even more memorable is that we got to experience a magical Turkish winter wonderland!