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‘Hidden City’ ski resort in Turkey

Posted on 14 February 2011

Date: 07/01/2009
‘Hidden City’ ski resort in Turkey

The ski resort of Saklikent, which means “Hidden City” in Turkish, set up on a north-facing slope of Mt. Bakirli (Copper Mountain, 2,547 meters), has long been a winter playground for the citizens of the seaside city of Antalya, some 1,800 meters below. With the relatively recent but very rapid growth in winter tourism in the region, it has increasingly become a day, or even overnight, destination for vacationers and second-home owners from resorts along the coast below. Some years the skiing doesn’t really get going until well into January, but this year the deluges of late December witnessed so gloomily by my fellow passengers from Manchester have brought Christmas early to the resort, with thick snow carpeting the slopes and promising a long, successful season ahead.

By far the best way to get to Saklikent is by hired car. The good news is that Antalya has plenty of rental outfits — all offering cheap winter deals. Although only 50 kilometers west of the city center, the drive takes at least one-and-a-half hours, as the road twists and turns its way steeply up from almost sea level to 1,800 meters. Once out of the sprawling suburbs of Turkey’s fastest growing city, the drive becomes a joy, with the road hemmed in by citrus and pomegranate orchards. As you begin the ascent from the fruit-growing plain onto the flanks of the mountains, a pine forest takes over and remains an ever present companion until you reach Saklikent, which just happens to be right on the tree line of this part of the Toros range.

If you’re not a keen skier in a desperate rush to hit the slopes, it’s worth stopping en route for brunch at one of the shacks that dot the roadside on the lower slopes. Here women from the nearby villages prepare delicious gözleme, a traditional yörük (nomadic pastoralists of the Toros Mountains) dish akin to the Indian paratha. Beginning with a small ball of well-kneaded dough, the dexterous women skillfully roll it out into a thin, elastic round, which they then lay atop a convex griddle set on a small wood fire. Whilst the unleavened bread is slowly baking, it’s sprinkled with a filling (usually goat cheese with parsley, a spicy potato mix or mincemeat), then smeared with oil, folded and slapped back on the griddle a couple of times before being served up piping hot. Washed down with a glass of refreshing ayran (yogurt — here usually fresh from the local sheep or goats — mixed with water and a dash of salt), it will pep you up nicely for an afternoon’s skiing or tobogganing.

Make the trip up on a sunny weekend — especially a Sunday — and you’ll have plenty of company, as droves of Antalyali (natives of Antalya) head for the hills. You may be surprised to find that very few of them are interested in skiing, with the vast majority intent only on finding a suitable roadside halt where they can set up a mangal (barbeque) beneath the pines. It’s a family day out, with the kids enjoying pelting each other with snowballs, dad standing wafting life into charcoal embers with a strip of cardboard and deftly flipping pieces of sucuk (spicy sausage) on the grill and mum slicing mountains of tomatoes and cucumbers. Those that make it all the way up the foot of the ski slopes in the village are often quite content to sit at the cafe sipping tea whilst their kids hurtle down a safe slope on a hired toboggan or do what children the world over do when faced with the novelty of the white stuff — make a snowman. When the sun’s shining it’s plenty warm enough to sit outside the cafe and take in the blinding snow-covered peaks stretching all around you. The village itself, comprising some 500 purpose-built private second homes and a mosque, is not exactly characterful, but looks pretty enough under a blanket of snow.

If you are here for the skiing or snowboarding, the rental outlet next to the motel has all the latest gear for reasonable prices. There’s a double-seater chair lift which goes up to 2,400 meters, much used by non-skiers keen to sit in the panorama cafe at the top and admire the view. There are only easy and intermediate runs, but in the right conditions the off-piste skiing presents more of a challenge to experienced skiers and boarders. There’s also a T-bar lift ideal for novice skiers, giving access to a couple of short, easy but enjoyable pistes. The slopes are at the busiest on a Sunday, and prices for ski-rental and lift passes are considerably more expensive on weekends than during the week.

If you’re not up for skiing, boarding, tobogganing, making a snowman or simply admiring the view from one of the cafes, it’s possible to walk in the pretty pine forest roundabout or head up to the right of the slopes to near the peak of Mt. Bakirli. Glinting in the sunlight here is a curious dome-shaped structure, which is actually the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK) observatory, positioned here to take advantage of the generally crystal clear skies and the fact that this corner of the Mediterranean is one of those least affected by light pollution. The views are superb, and even better from the true summit just behind, with all the peaks of Lycia unveiled around you and the Mediterranean at your feet. If you’re hardy and made an early start, you might just fancy leaving the snow behind and heading back down the mountain for a swim in the cool blue waters of the Mediterranean off Antalya’s Konyaalti beach!

TODAYS ZAMAN 6 January 2009

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