I know what you seasoned travel agents are thinking. You know all about the first three, but world class skiing? In Turkey? Has JAX FAX lost their minds?
Well, at first we thought the same thing. Our friends at FloTours (www.flotours.com) insisted that Turkey has some of the best skiing in the world, and since they are planning to launch tours to Turkey that include skiing, they wanted JAX FAX to see it for themselves.
First stop - Istanbul
Any tour to Turkey is likely to begin with a few day in Istanbul. Istanbul is a modern European city, historically known as Byzantium and Constantinople. The current name of Istanbul was adopted in 1928 and comes from the ancient Greek name for the city. Istanbul’s well known tourist sites include:
Hagia Sofia - the former Greek Orthodox Cathedral whose massive dome changed architecture forever.
TopKapi Palace - the former residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman Sultans, now a museum.
The Blue Mosque (really the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) - famed for its blue tiled walls.
The Grand Bazaar - one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with over 4,000 shops spread over 61 covered streets.
After a few days in Istanbul, what could be better than a few days of skiing?
Hitting the slopes
Only about an hour’s flight away from Istanbul lies the city of Kayseri- gateway to Mount Erciyes and some of the best skiing anywhere.
The Erciyes Ski Resort (www.kayserierciyes.com.tr) is located just 15 miles from Kayseri. The mountain peaks at 12,851 feet and the summit has snow year round. The skiing area at Erciyes is between 5,900-9,900 feet in altitude. The total length of the runs at Erciyes is about 7.5 miles. The longest run at Erciyes is 2.1 miles. The first chair lift at Erciyes is 4,900 feet long. The second chair lift that is the mostly targeted by expert skiers is 5,200 feet long and exposes skiers to 8,366 to 9,800 feet in altitude. Besides groomed trails, Mount Erciyes also offers great back-country skiing.
Visually what sets Mount Erciyes apart from most ski areas is the lack of trees. This volcanic mountain is, for the most part, treeless. The unobstructed terrain makes for great skiing. Your ski clients will love the mountain which has great runs for every skill level.
For clients that want to use their own ski equipment, Turkish Airlines does not charge extra for skis if an airline ticket includes Kayseri. For those who don’t want the hassle of traveling with their ski stuff, equipment rentals at Erciyes is about a tenth of what you would pay in the US.
The Ski Center has good facilities with restaurants, bars and a multitude of ski equipment rental shops. Weekdays, your clients will have the slopes pretty much to themselves and on the weekend, it is still much less crowded than in the US or Europe.
Some accommodations are available on the mountain, yet most travelers choose to stay in the larger hotels located nearby in Kayseri. Kayseri is a modern city approaching 2 million in population, meaning your clients can ski the mountain during the day and come back to Kayseri for all the modern conveniences and restaurants of a large city.
Checking out Cappadocia
No trip to Turkey would be complete without spending a few days in the charming Cappadocia area. Luckily, this is just about an hour drive Southwest from Kayseri.
The famous volcanic rocks of Cappadocia have eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and chimney-like forms. For centuries the people of the Cappadocia region carved out homes, churches and monasteries from the soft rocks of the area. For war-time protection, communities even carved entire underground cities. Among the most visited underground cities are Derinkuyu, Kaymakli, Gaziemir and Ozkonak.
When booking clients to Cappadocia, you want to use a small group tour company, such as FloTours. Large coaches are unable to visit some of the most interesting places, such as a town that was carved into the hillsides and only abandoned in the 1950’s.
A unique feature of the area is the chance to stay in historic mansions and cave houses and hotels. The best are in Ürgüp, Göreme, Guzelyurt and Uçhisar.
Some of the cave hotels have units that may be be built of the local stone (not a cave) while have some units that are built into the hillside as cave rooms. Take care when confirming your clients.
The other famous attraction in Cappadocia is hot air ballooning. On a good weather day the sky is filled with over 30 balloons of different shapes and colors, making for a spectacular display. Ballooning in Cappadocia is regulated by the government. The upside is that this makes it one of the safest places in the world for your clients to go “ballooning,” but the downside is that if the government decides the winds aren’t right, no balloons launch. Reservations are required for this hot commodity and having an extra day or two is a good idea as insurance against weather cancellations.
After a few days of exploring Istanbul, a few days skiing the fine powder of Mount Erciyes and some time exploring the cave and stone wonders of Cappadocia, it will be time for your clients to return home. It would be a short one-hour drive to the airport in Kayseri, and just over an hour to Istanbul for the connecting flight back to the US. Turkish Airlines’ gateway cities offering non-stop flights to Istanbul include: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, JFK, San Francisco and Washington, DC.