Located within driving distance for Istanbul skiers, Kar Tepe mountain in Kocaeli, Turkey offers a five-star hotel, ski resort, evergreen forests, and charming cafes dotted along the road leading to the summit.
I was teaching basic English to private language school students on weekends when I decided it was time for a field trip. Since I had often stood in Izmit, Kocaeli by the banks of the Marmara Sea and looked up at the distant mountains, I thought of traveling to Kar Tepe, the tallest peak in Kocaeli and home to a five-star hotel and challenging ski resort.
The only way to get up the mountain is by car, since the buses only go to the village of Kar Tepe at the base of the mountain. The paved road is well cared for, thanks in part to business from wealthy Istanbul residents who want to ski at the closest location. One of my students offered to drive our small group, and we left early on a Saturday morning in September.
The air was cool, and mist covered the summit as we ascended the windy road. We stopped near the ski resort, at a quaint cabin cafe, for coffee next to a wood-burning fireplace. After our cozy break, we wandered into the evergreen forest and took photos of amazing vegetation beside ancient trees, hoping to glimpse a deer or bear that might wander by.
"Wild boars often come this way," one of my students told me. "They have dangerous tusks that can kill a hunter."
"Oh, I'll be careful! Are there also coyotes?" I asked.
"We call them jackals," another student replied with a smile, "and we often call dishonest people that name."
We drove to the end of the road and took photos of ski lifts that edged down toward the Greenpark Hotel, half hidden in the mist. Then we traveled to the five-star hotel itself and wandered through the expensive hallways and restaurants, the friendly staff giving us a private tour. I was impressed by the mix of modern amenities and Ottoman paintings.
Since we couldn't afford lunch at the hotel's outdoor cafe with view of cabins and ski runs, we drove to a small cafe along the descending highway. A woman made Turkish cheese bread on a wood-burning stove, and we sat by the railing, enjoying our strong tea ("çay" in Turkish, pronounced "chai") in its brass, two-layered teapot design with the tea on top and hot water below. We gazed at the distant view of Lake Sopanca before heading back down to Izmit, thankful for our day in one of Turkey's mountains.