Sarıkamış

With its fairytale valleys blanketed in snow three seasons of the year, its Russian Baltic architecture, and its ski center surrounded by pine forest, Sarıkamış is only an hour or two away by air.

To say it's like Switzerland might be considered a cliché, but it's not. The high, forested valleys of Sarıkamış are surprisingly reminiscent of Europe's Alpine villages.  To be more precise, everything here is as it was half a century ago. The tinkle of cowbells can be heard all over the place. Without a doubt the first thing that comes to a Turk's mind at the mention of Sarıkamış, 53 kilometers southwest of Kars and likened by Orhan Pamuk to a remote and isolated metropolis, is that we lost ninety thousand soldiers here in the Russo-Turkish War. And yet Sarıkamış is so beautiful it that deserves to be  remembered also for its natural beauty and rich history.

Just two hours away
You have an important opportunity today to see Sarıkamış, which has been overlooked up to now because it was so out of the way. Kars is only a few hours away thanks to Turkish Airlines' new daily return flights. And the four-lane highway from the city center to Sarıkamış is open and maintained on even the coldest winter days. Nor is finding accommodation any longer a problem for visitors to the township. Besides the two hotels, a five-star and a three-star, at Cıbıltepe where the ski resort is located, there are also several motels and guesthouses in the town center. The average elevation is 2,090 m at Sarıkamış, which lies on a plateau surrounded by exactly six volcanic mountain peaks, the highest of which is 3,138 m and the lowest 2,599 m. Watered by the Aras River and the smaller Kars Çayı, as well as two streams, the Zivin and the Keklik, this township is a unique camping area for sports enthusiasts eager to condition themselves to its high altitude and oxygen-rich air. The cool refreshing summers in this township, one of Turkey's coldest spots since temperatures can sink to minus forty degrees in winter, are a godsend for athletes. And the persistent verdure of the broad meadows that carpet the countryside on even the hottest days of summer are nature's boon. The landscape of this township, whose reputation as a winter sports center is growing by the day, is also conducive to  mountaineering, horseback riding, trekking, and orienteering. Our first stop on our Sarıkamış tour is the former cathedral known as the Yanık or Burnt Church at the town center. Built by the Russians, during the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War, it is constructed on a rectangular plan using cut stone and brick. The building's round-arched entrance, surrounded by bricks, is covered with a small roof. This fascinating structure, which was abandoned to its fate and only revived  by the municipality much later as a movie theater, was also used, with the addition of a minaret, as a mosque. Only the main walls are standing now of the original of this historic building, which was destroyed by fire in the 1970's.

The Katerina Pavilion
The Katerina Pavilion is another of Sarıkamış's historic treasures of spectacular natural beauty therapeutic to the human soul. This pavilion is one of the quintessentially Russian structures dating back to the Russo-Turkish War. Assumed to have been built in 1902 despite the absence of an inscription, it exhibits the delicate lines that characterize Baltic architecture. Known to the locals as the Katerina Pavilion, this hunting lodge hosted the Russian Tsar Nicholas and his wife in 1914.

Built to European standards
Snow falls here in a magical, peaceful silence. Bestowed by nature, its white cover is part of life for seven months of the year. Unspoiled nature is just  another factor that sets Sarıkamış apart as a winter sports center with the longest ski season in Turkey. Only 45 kilometers from Kars Airport, the ski slopes lie on a plateau ranging from 2,200 to 2,900 meters in altitude on three mountains: Cıbıltepe - Balıkdağ and Çamurludağ. Sarıkamış, which has a computerized telesiege system capable of transporting 2,400 people, is one of Turkey's most advanced ski resorts. Six ski runs as well as a snowboarding track totaling 17 kilometers in length await visitors at the center. There are two lift systems as well on the 2,635 m Cıbıltepe where the main pistes are located. Seven-hundred meters long, the first lift offers an ideal gradient for beginners to the sport, while the second, 2,600-long lift connects the first to four more pistes of various degrees of difficulty. All the mechanical equipment at the center has been built by European firms to world standards. The longest ski run at Sarıkamış is 5,250 meters in length. Another feature that distinguishes Sarıkamış from other ski centers is the type of snow that falls here, which is exactly the same as the 'dry' crystalline snow of Alpine fame and eminently suitable for skiing. Although the winter months are sunny, the snow that falls here never loses its 'first-day' freshness, guaranteeing ski buffs sparkling slopes and safe winter sports. Surrounded by dense black pine forest, the slopes are protected against the wind with no risk of an avalanche. With a snow cover of one meter for an average of four months of the year under normal conditions, the ski center offers winter sports from December to mid-April. The ski runs are also ideal for bobsledding and cross-country skiing since the ski center and its environs are suitable for different ski disciplines such as Alpine and Nordic. It's high time you treated yourself to a different sort of winter vacation, wouldn't you say?