A pristine paradise in Bolu's natural-wonder Aladağ Mountains, Gölcük is like a gleaming turquoise of dazzling beauty set amidst snow-covered firs.

Who would not want to stroll around the shores of a frozen lake on a mountain top where big snowflakes drift softly down, to throw snowballs until his nose turns bright red, to see his hands smudged black by the lumps of coal that are his carefully sculpted snowman's eyes, and to remember the halcyon days of childhood? How about heeding the call of your inner child and reliving a snowy winter day like those in faded old photographs? Even better, rather than contenting yourself with the snow heaped up on big city streets and cars, to stroll at length under real snow falling on lush pines and firs. Living far from nature, alienated from even his own human nature, an urban dweller would die for this. Wouldn't you?

Our first stop is the city of Bolu, perennial winter resort with its lakes, mountains, highlands and spas and its tiny villages that preserve the traditional way of life. Not counting the places that immediately spring to mind at the first mention of Bolu - Abant, Kartalkaya, and the Yedigöller or Seven Lakes - there are still countless unspoiled, if little known, other spots in the area. When you arrive in Bolu, which boasts a total of 46 lakes, 14 of them natural, 32 manmade, you can't help but wonder if there is any other city in the world so richly endowed. Lake Sünnet, for example, which takes on a mystical atmosphere when the water level rises and some of the trees are partially submerged, Lake Sülük, a virtual botanical museum, Lake Efteni, a bird refuge, as well as Lake Çubuk, Lake Karamurat, Lake Çağa, and the Hasanlar Dam Lake, not to mention Güzeldere and Samandere  Waterfalls, each a natural monument. And Gölcük itself, sparkling like a bright blue bead smack dab in the middle of the fir trees in the foothills of the Aladağ Mountains, whose beauty is different in every season. And the only building around is a wooden guesthouse reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel's gingerbread house, far from the madding crowd, where nature's is the only voice you will hear.

The hotels at Karacasu, famous for its thermal springs and host to a large number of tourists every year, are the lodging alternative closest to Gölcük. If you take one of the minibuses or share-cabs that operate between Karacasu and Seben, the chirping of birds will accompany you all along the winding asphalt road. Turn off 8 kilometers from the Karacasu exit and follow the signs for the national park. After you walk about 300 meters Gölcük will suddenly appear before you snuggled in a blanket of pure white snow. At 950 meters above sea level, this lake is actually a manmade lake 45,000 square meters in area. Picnic grounds and hiking trails totaling 1,320 meters in length surround the 450-hectare lake area, which is operated by the Department of National Parks as a recreational and hiking destination. You will be struck by the profound silence when you start your hike around Gölcük, which is beautiful in every season. Every spot here is so quiet that the crystal clear waters flowing from the old wooden fountains seem to sing a lyrical song, and the fresh snow crunches underfoot like a purring cat. All these peaceful sounds emanating from the heart of nature will renew your soul.

Anyone who has been to Gölcük in winter understands implicitly what nature's silence is. The main reason for the profound silence at Gölcük is that there are no vehicles here, not even horse-drawn phaetons. Since the only road is a dirt lane, it is also prohibited to drive around the lake in a motor vehicle. Indeed, this is a place worth coming to simply because of the absence of cars. The wooden piers every 300-400 meters along the hiking trail around the lake, one of Turkey's most romantic spots, are a lovely complement to this incomparable winter landscape. Each one an observation deck, these wooden piers are popular with photographers. Although the view is the same from all of them, the ripples on the water seem to draw a different picture on the lake surface every time, almost as if it is morphing into a new universe. And the spellbinding reflection of
the snow-clad fir trees on this lake in the protective bosom of the Aladağ Mountains recalls the canvases of the naturalistic landscape painters.

A Sea of Trees
Fifteen kilometers from Bolu city center, Gölcük is reached by a road that has never had to be closed on even the coldest of winter days. Since the lake shore is off limits to construction, the 'gingerbread' guesthouse of the Forestry Ministry will catch your eye the minute you arrive. If you approach and ring the bell, you will almost certainly not get in for this requires special permission from the Ministry. Instead you will have to content yourself with seeing the house, which figures so prominently in postcards, photos and paintings, from the outside and perhaps snapping a photo of it. But not to worry. You'll become even more enamored of this place the more you contemplate the elegance of the water birds floating delicately on the lake, the light in the eyes of the picnicking young people, the joy of the children throwing snowballs, and the alluring hues of the fish darting in and out of the water.  The price you'll pay for an average hour-and-a-half walk around the lake, with its picture-taking, its snowball fights and its rest stops, is of course a bright red nose and frozen fingers.  But who minds a shiver or two in the face of such beauty? Still, we have to leave before it gets dark. In particular before we miss the last minibus, and before the setting sun bathes the entire lake in inimitable landscapes...