For our 30th issue, we explored the more remote premises of the east and went to shred the land of Eastern promise and found some true Turkish Delight
Words by Gemma Bowes, photos by Anna Batchelor
Kebabs on the mountain, the call to prayer echoing across the slopes and steamy traditional hammams – it’s a real break from the déjà vu of your typical snow holiday.
If you thought Turkey was all about bargain summer breaks and tacky beach resorts then just take a look at the map and see what a massive place it is. There are plenty of spectacular mountains, it gets seriously cold, and while the resorts can't claim to be as extensive or challenging as most European ones, riding there is a totally unique experience. Kebabs on the mountain, the call to prayer echoing across the slopes and steamy traditional hammams – it’s a real break from the déjà vu of your typical snow holiday. Add to the mix the fact that very few snowboarders have discovered the Turkish slopes and that the locals tend to stay on piste (leaving all the freshies for you), plus you can add a couple of days “extended après-ski" partying in Istanbul on your way home, and you've got yourself a real adventure and a satisfying snow trip all in one. What's not to love?
But where to go and how to do it...
Turkey is a relative newcomer to shredding, but Uludag is its oldest resort, with two main ski areas and 14 lifts across several different hills. It's where Istanbul's hipster crowd goes to ride, and where the city's wealthy glitterati go to ski and party. You can get there easily from Istanbul by ferry, across the Sea of Marmara to the ancient Ottoman city of Bursa, from where it's an hour's drive through the pine forest nature reserve that surrounds the resort. On arrival you’ll find intermediate runs lined with areas for tree riding and untouched powder stashes, a fun and accessible ride that will suit riders of all standards.
Uludag is Turkey's oldest resort, with two main ski areas and 14 lifts across several different hills, and riding destination of choice for Istanbul's hipster crowd
Where to stay: The Alkoclar in the quieter of the two ski areas is owned by one of the Turkish film industry's big players, and has an amazing hammam spa where you can get the best exfoliation of your life. Nothing compares to being serenaded by your masseuse as they scrub you down to within an inch of your life on a giant marble slab.
Food: The wooden hut restaurant at the top of the main slopes serves Turkish sausage and lamb cooked fresh on the grill outside. Eat indoors under the cosy glow of colourful lanterns, finishing off your meal with a glass of pungent mint tea. For an evening meal head down into Bursa to try the original Iskendar kebab, where it’s claimed the much-lauded delicacy was invented. Not healthy, but seriously tasty stuff.
Nightlife: Turkish ski resorts are a long way from Ibiza, but there are still a few options for an après-ride pint. Straight off the hill try the Kardanadam cafe on the foot of the slopes, a sleek minimalist bar serving up snowboard films and cold beers to a young trendy crowd. Later head for a cocktail at the stylish (but pricey) Monte Baia Hotel.
Must-dos: Spend a half-day in Bursa, an hour downhill, which used to be the capital of the Ottoman empire. The Ottoman tombs, historic houses and massive mosque are really quite beautiful, while the silk market and the Museum of Ottoman Folk Costume and Jewellery provides some out-there inspiration for those interested in fashion and design.
Palondoken, near Erzurum
Located in the far eastern corner of Turkey, a two-hour flight from Istanbul, Palandoken is considered Turkey's premier resort, with the steepest terrain, high altitude peaks and a healthy supply of snow. Officially it's against the rules to go off-piste but stay away from the officials and no one seems to mind, just make sure you’re fully kitted out with avalanche gear (and knowledge). The views from the top are mind-blowing, a vast empty white landscape that runs to the horizon with no roads, no buildings and no sign of life as far as the eye can see. The affect is quite startling as you’re left to ride the remote powder fields in absolute solitude. There's little to do after you’ve wallowed in acres of pow all day, but who cares when you’ve ridden the edge of the earth, without another western tourist for miles. With the season rolling out right into May it’s an ideal end of winter adventure.
The views from the top are mind-blowing, a vast empty white landscape that runs to the horizon with no roads, no buildings and no sign of life as far as the eye can see
Where to stay: The Dedeman group runs several hotels at resort base.
Where to eat: In Erzurum, try Erzurum Evleri, stuffed full of carpets, pictures, weapons and other Ottoman paraphernalia. Alternatively try Gel-Gor Cag Kebabi for, you guessed it, more of those famous kebabs.
Nightlife: Er, you can forget about that. Save yourself for the powder. The Kirk Cesme Hamami does hammams for women, an alternative wind down for the evening.
Must-dos: If you’ve got the money, sign up for a heli-ski trip in the Kackar mountains (turkeyheliski.com), the terrain’s steep and the powder is incredible, prices are cheaper then anywhere else in Europe, well worth the investment for confident riders.
As you'll be passing through en route to the ski resorts, it would be crazy not to stay in Istanbul for a day or two. Pretty magical anyway, Istanbul looks even more spectacular when covered in a blanket of snow. The golden domes of the blue mosques topped with snow but surrounded by palm trees and strings of colourful flags look like something out of a kids' fantasy film. There are stacks of cultural sights and souks to explore, along with plenty of cool bars and nightlife, which will make up for the underwhelming in-resort après-ski.
Where to stay: Nomade Hotel is a decent budget option in the main Sultanahmet district.
Food: A fish sandwich from the fishermens' boats bobbing in the harbour near Galata bridge is a must, white fish in a baguette with fresh lemon juice. Simple, fresh and tasty. For authentic Turkish, try Zarifi in Beyoglu for meze in a modern space.
Nightlife: The Beyoglu area is Istanbul's equivalent of New York's meatpacking district, full of cool bars and clubs.
Must-dos: Haghia Sophia mosque is unmissable, as is the Grand Bazaar for weird spices and treats. For the real Turkish “wow" factor visit the Kopi Palace, while the Istanbul centre for Modern Art provides an insight into the city’s creative community. And if you’ve got the energy check out the 720 Adrenaline Skatepark, a huge indoor park with ringside cafe.