By Metin Demirsar
Ilgaz Mountain National Park (Dunya) – I am reclining on a chaise longue by a heated pool in the Ilgaz Mountain Resort, sipping herbal tea and gazing out to the snow-covered pine forest that envelops the site, awed by the natural surroundings.
I have just had a one-hour long private bubble bath on a heated, octagonal marble belly stone in the resort's hamam, or public bath, and an olive oil massage given by the masseur, and have not felt as clean or relaxed in years. My face is covered with a seaweed mask that I have been told will help tighten my skin and help detoxify my facial pores.
Located in the Ilgaz Mountain National Park, at an altitude of 1,750 meters (5,751 feet), the resort is popular among local tourists and foreigners seeking a vacation in the mountains, away from the hectic sprawl of the cities. Home to grizzly bears, deer, wolves and other wildlife, the Ilgaz Mountain National Park is 450 km (280 miles) east of Istanbul, and 200 km (124 miles) north of Ankara.
As a member of a private tour group, I arrived at the resort on a weekday morning, after a seven-hour bus ride from Istanbul for a three-day, two- night stay.
The Ilgaz Mountains divide the provinces of Cankiri and Kastamonu, but the national park area, skiing facilities and hotels lie in Kastamonu, one of the most verdant provinces in all of Anatolia, often described as the ‘Switzerland of Turkey.' The snow-capped Buyukhacet at 2,587 meters (8,356 feet) is the highest peak in the mountain range.
With its colorful lodges, Ilgaz Mountain Resort offers 118 suites with a total bed 446 bed capacity. The resort is a subsidiary of Kastamonu Holding, owned by a group of local businessmen living in Istanbul, led by Sudi Topal, a former national boxing champion and entrepreneur.
In addition to its lodges, suites and spa, the resort offers two central restaurants, a bar cafe and a huge, crowded lobby in front of a large fireplace, playrooms for children, a cinema room, and a game room where boisterous backgammon tournaments are held in the evenings.
That morning before the afternoon bath and massage, I took a short ride in a trailer with several others, including skiers, to the ski area of the mountains, where several smaller hotels are located.
I took a ski lift to a 2,100-meter (6,890 ft) mountain top and observed from a cafe, operated by the National Ski Federation, groups of skiers in colorful garb slaloming down the slopes of a half dozen ski-runs, while tasting hot wine, a favorite of skiers.
The federation operates the ski-runs, lifts and also a small hotel at the base of the mountain.
In addition to the small Dagbasi Hotel, Ankara University also operates a hotel and rest and recuperation center for athletes.
The Armed Forces also runs facilities at the site for their members only.
Kastamonu's wooden houses
On the return trip to Istanbul, we stopped off in Kastamonu, the provincial capital, only 40 km (25 miles) from the national park, for several hours.
A city of 94,000 inhabitants, Kastamonu has existed as a commercial center since ancient times, and was a stopping point for caravans on the Silk Road, the trade route linking western Anatolia with China.
Over the millennia, the Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines, and other peoples controlled the city. In 1084, the Seljuk Turks conquered the city after overrunning most of Anatolia following their victory over the Byzantine army in Manzikert in 1070.
The Ottoman Turks took over the city in 1461 as they united the various beyliks, or feudal Turkish principalities, ruling Anatolia after the collapse of the Seljuk Empire.
The city is known for its splendid wooden houses that cling to the hills that surround Kastamonu, a citadel with strong walls and old mosques and modern shopping plazas.
We visited the Ismail Bey Mosque Complex, with its Caravan Han, where caravan drivers and their animals once stayed, and its handicrafts bazaar.
We also dropped by the Architect Vedat Tek Culture and Art Center, which houses Turkey's only "Hat Museum."