Uludag, Turkey's premier ski resort, nestles at the base of Mount Olympus, a four hour drive from Istanbul. The resort is a charming village set in the forest of a national park in the heart of the ancient Ottoman Empire. It looks like any other alpine village apart, that is, from the odd snow-clad mosque and the strange wailing sounds drifting across the mountain as the faithful are called to prayer.
Yes, Turkey. The land of sand, sea and doner kebabs really does have snow-and plenty of it. Bears and even the odd wild wolf lurk in the pine forests surrounding the resort. They are rarely seen, even by the locals, but it all adds to the sense of romance and adventure.
British skiers have started to find their way to Uludag and for those who like doorstep skiing this is the place to come. Most of the hotels are on the piste and for the others the furthest you will have to walk is across the road. Uludag has an excellent snow record, something which the alpine resorts have missed in recent years. There's a huge amount of safe, easily accessible virgin snow. It's the perfect place for would-be powder hounds to learn how to ski in deep snow.
Lunchtime barbecues at the mountain cafes and restaurants, under a brilliant blue sky and blazing sun are a must. You can enjoy a full three-course meal or just sit by the open fires drinking Sharap (wine). The resort is also cheap, friendly and more sophisticated than you might think. You won't find a friendlier welcome than a Turkish one. This well established area boasts modern hotels like the 5* Grand Yazici which offers swimming pools, gym,sauna,nightclub and children's mini club. Not surprisingly, the apres ski is very different and very Turkish. The locals will offer you a ready welcome and invite you to chat, share a glass of raki or join their game of backgammon. the atmosphere is really special.
But the biggest advantage of skiing in Uludag is the lack of crowds. There are only two weeks in the season, which runs from December through to late March, when the resort is full. This is when Istanbul's rich and famous come to see and be seen. The rest of the year it is a skiers paradise-uncrowded slopes and no lift queues. Aching limbs can be restored with a blissful visit to the natural thermal baths in nearby Bursa. This was once the Ottoman capital of Turkey. A massage to follow, however, is only for the hardy and those who don't mind being thoroughly pummelled by a vigorous, moustached masseur!
Another attraction is the option of combining the trip with a short stay in Istanbul, arguably the world's largest open-air museum. built on two continents Istanbul never fails to impress. The unique blend of East and West, the clash of Christianity and Islam provide great contrasts. Try your hand at the age old art of haggling at the Grand Bazaar with it's 4,000 shops. Unmissable sights include Aya Sofya, a Byzantine church that is now a museum, the Blue Mosque so called for its exquisite blue tiles, and Topkapi Palace which was once home to the Ottoman Sultans. Whatever your interests, Istanbul has it all for you, at reasonable prices.
Uludag offers good skiing on uncrowded slopes, above average facilities. plenty of sunshine and a glimpse of an exotic culture.A truly different winter ski break.
For further information: www.gaiadestinations.org