During the winter, the town and district of Sarıkamış in Kars is the ultimate stop for ski enthusiasts; mountains and valleys covered with a fresh layer of snow surround the area. With an average of 2.1–2.4 meters (seven to eight feet) of snowfall, the winters are long and offer the perfect conditions for its use as a ski resort. Let’s not forget to mention that one of the world’s longest ski tracks is also here. You’ll find average altitudes of 1,500 to 2,000 meters (4,921–6,562 feet), with the highest mountain (the Aladağ Mountain) coming in at 3,138 meters (10,295 feet).
While you’re in the area, definitely explore the stunning hunting lodge built by Czar Nicholas II of Russia during the Russian occupation after the Ottoman-Russian War in 1877–1878. Known locally as the Katerina Mansion, the gorgeous building was completed in 1896 and abandoned in 1917 when the Turks recaptured the area. Rumors have it that the beautiful structure is set to become an amazing hotel.
Anatolia’s second largest lake is located at the border with the Ardahan District and is the only body of water in Turkey to completely freeze in the winter. The freshwater lake, with a surface area of 123 square kilometers (47.5 sq mi), is a popular place to go ice fishing, ice skating, and to even take a ride across with a horse-drawn sled. You’ll also find a lot of fish restaurants around the lake that serve fresh grilled fish and rakı with plenty of ice. The surrounding snow-covered valleys and the warming sun all come together for quite the winter wonderland panorama at this particular lake.
Castle of Kars
In 1153, Saltukid Sultan (one of the ruling dynasties of Anatolia) Malik Izzeddin Saltuk II commissioned Vizier Firuz Akay to build the Castle of Kars, one of Kars’ major landmarks. Destroyed and rebuilt many times, the structure saw the most damage during the 40-year Russian occupation after the Ottoman Turkish War. Nowadays, visitors can make their way up the hill to view the impressive fortress and its seven remaining watchtowers, four gates, shrine, ammunition depot, and small mosque that was rebuilt in the ’90s.
Cathedral of Kars
The Armenian Bagratid King Abas I built this former Armenian Apostolic church, located in the middle of Kars city, in the mid-10th century. After serving as a mosque, a Russian Orthodox church, and a museum, the structure became a mosque once again in 1993 and is connected to a larger Islamic complex that includes Kars’ largest mosque, the Evliya Mosque.
Speaking of cathedrals, no mention of Kars would be complete without discussing the stunning ruins of Ani. Once the thriving capital of the Armenian Bagratid Kingdom, the site nowadays is a collection of dilapidated yet still glorious structures in a beautiful valley next to the border with Armenia.