As we make our way past the half-way mark of Turkey's winter season in many cities across the country, one last trip to a winter wonderland is needed amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the city. Situated between two of Turkey's largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, the province of Bolu is the perfect spot to sneak in a weekend getaway that would lighten up the winter months with fresh air and picture-perfect views.
This past week I had the opportunity to travel to two of Bolu province's most famous spots: Abant and Gölcük lakes. Although the most popular time of year to visit the picturesque lakes is between May and September, I found the snow-covered trees, crisp winter air and frozen lakes to be even more magical and calm during the winter season.
The first stop of the tour was Abant Lake, a natural freshwater lake situated between the Abant Mountains. The lake, 7 kilometers in diameter and around 18 meters deep, is the perfect spot for those who want to get away from the busy city life and take in some fresh air. When we entered the park, we first stopped at a small wooden welcome center that told the history of the lake and also displayed taxidermy animals of the surrounding forest's furry friends, including wild boars, deer, bears, foxes, jackals, rabbits and birds of prey.
As we walked outside the welcome center, we got our first glimpse of the lake, an ice-covered area topped with glistening, fluffy snow smack-dab in the middle of mountains full of white covered trees. Before entering the trail that takes you around the lake, horse-drawn carriages were waiting to whisk away lovebirds for a romantic journey. A little bit further down the road, there is a small local bazaar filled with village favorites from the surrounding area, including honey, yogurt, cheese, butter, medicinal herbs, wooden handicraft items and more. And of course, you cannot leave Abant without tasting "Bolu sucuğu," the best pepperoni the region has to offer. Several small restaurants line the road leading up to the lake where you can stop and enjoy sandwiches filled with this "sucuk" and various other kinds of spicy meat, as well as warm up with a cup of tea or the traditional Turkish winter drink "salep." Salep (also spelled sahlep) is a warm milk mixture with flour made of orchis, a tasty treat not only nutritious but also warming for your soul. If you only have a short amount of time, Abant is the perfect place to grab your coziest sweater and your loved ones for a refreshing getaway.
The next stop was Gölcük Lake, a place recognized by the small isolated cottage situated perfectly on the man-made lake with mountains and forests towering behind it. The house on the lake is owned by the state, but visitors can enjoy its beauty as they make a 1 kilometer walk around the lake. Upon entering the park, you can immediately see families gathered around barbecues and children and adults alike participating in snowball fights and sledding down the steep hill with any material they can find, even with as something as cheap and simple as a plastic grocery bag.
Gölcük Lake is a place more prepared for visitors, with a plethora of restaurants and cafes, welcoming people in for a warm tea or soup. Only an hour away from Abant Lake, Gölcük is easily accessible to those looking to spend a short amount of time in Bolu province. Although I was only able to get away for one day, there were many quaint accommodations further away from the normal tourist sights if you are looking for more downtime surrounded by the calm, dazzling snow.
Tour agencies from Turkey's major cities such as Istanbul or Ankara are a practical way for city dwellers to access the beautiful places Turkey has to offer in a short amount of time. Many tour agencies offer fully organized getaways, ranging from one to 10-day tours. Without needing to think of accommodations or transportation, the low-cost travel option includes not only the ease of traveling, but also provides you with information about places to visit, which allows you to explore the region with a cultural, historical and informational context in mind.
"The demand for such tours and activities, which have become very high in domestic tourism, provides us with the opportunity to help people who want to do something for themselves and not to miss life thanks to the increasing number of new destinations and the desire of people to discover new places," Bilal Yılmazer, an owner of a travel agency based in Ankara, said. "Nowadays, we help people living in big cities get away from the tiring work tempo and crowd and reward themselves with new adventures," he said.
So what are you waiting for? Hit the refresh button on your mundane routine and pack up your car or book a tour for one last winter wonderland retreat in one of the most beautiful places, not only Turkey, but the world has to offer – the lakes of Abant and Gölcük.