Earth : Europe : Turkey : Marmara (region) : Southern Marmara : Uludağ
Uludağ has two sides to it: On one side, it's an untouched natural beauty of forests, hills, and rocks overlooked by eagles and on the other it's a heavily-used resort of wintersports. One might argue there is a third side as well, the relatively small-sized but well-used daily-use areas that are filled with kebab-odour that disseminate from grills of open-air restaurants.
Uludağ was one of the twenty-odd mountains around the eastern half of Mediterranean basin that used to be called Olympos in ancient times—more precisely Mysian Olympos in this case, Mysia being the ancient name of the region what is about eastern two-thirds of Southern Marmara today.
In medieval times, Uludağ served as a hermitage to Christian monks, a situation which is the reason why its name was Keşiş Dağı ("Mountain of the Monks") in Ottoman Turkish. It was renamed Uludağ, which translates "Great Mountain" ("great" being more in the sense of "grand"), in 1935, about a decade after the Turkish Republic was founded.
Northern side of the mountain overlooking the city of Bursa (though you should be darn lucky to have a glimpse of the city from most locations on the mountain) is dotted with a number of flat plateaus around 1,600 mt above the sea level: Sarıalan (the main daily-use area and where cable cars from Bursa terminate), Kadıyayla (where the cable car pauses before heading forward to Sarıalan), Karabelen (when approaching by road, the national park gate is situated here), and Kirazlıyayla (the first plateau after the park gate) among others.
The southern slopes of the mountain is far steeper and is less accessible.
Flora and fauna
Uludağ is one of the places where school geography textbooks come true: the mountain has belts of different types of vegetation varying with the elevation. The lowest slopes bordering Bursa, up to 350 mt above the sea level is covered with Mediterranean shrubs (maquis), such as laurel trees. Between 350 through 700 mt, it's the warm temperate decidious forests dominated by chestnut trees (this zone is where most of those delicious chestnut desserts unique to Bursa originates from). It's the time for cool temperate decidious woods between 700 to 1,500 mt, dominated by beech trees. 1,500 to 2,100 mt is the highest belt that still allow trees to grow, dominated by indemic firs of Uludağ. Tree-less and fragile alpine meadows cover the areas of mountain above 2,100 mt.
Bears, wolves, deers, and eagles among others are the dwellers of Uludağ.
As you may be expecting, Uludağ is far chillier than nearby Bursa thanks to its elevation. The wintersports season, especially skiing, is between October and April, with a guaranteed stable snowcower and constant below freezing temparatures between December and March. A summer day that is sweltering hot in Bursa is likely to be cool enough that makes it really uncomfortable without at least a cardigan outdoors in Uludağ during the day and definately at night.
The narrow (wide enough for vehicles to pass side by side though) and tarmac road from Bursa (with signs pointing it all around the city) winds on the side of the mountain for 22 km until it arrives at the national park gate at Karabelen. After the gate, it turns into—or rather isn't upgraded from since it was opened—a cobbled road, presumably to force drivers to lower their speed, so that driving under icy conditions in winter on this winding road is safe. The cobbled road lasts for 8 km until Sarıalan, or 12 km until Oteller (area where all hotels are clustered).
In winter, vehicles without tire chains may not be allowed to go further than park gate if park authorities decide so (which usually do so in heavily-snowing days). Fortunately, you'll see a lot of stalls run by local people on sides of the road which sell chains—though they'll for sure try to rip you off if it's one of those no-cars-without-chains days. Whether a snowy day or not, winter driving rules apply.
30-person cable cars (teleferik) from Bursa's upper neighbourhood of Teferrüç on the foothills of the mountain (minibuses with signs Teferrüç – Teleferik get there from central Bursa) take a much more direct route than the road. It takes around 20-25 minutes to get to the Sarıalan station located at 1,634 mt above the sea level. At about mid-way up to Sarıalan, there is a change station at Kadıyayla. Because of space constraints, no skiing/snowboarding equipment is allowed in the cable car, but fortunately you can rent them up on the mountain. As of 2010, teleferik ride from Teferrüç to Sarıalan costs 10 TL pp return on Wednesdays and Fridays, 15 TL pp return on other days . Children aged 7-12 are entitled for a 50% concession. Departures start 8:30AM with 30-minute intervals until 10AM. Then, there is a departure every 40 minutes during the rest of the day with the last departure from Teferrüç to Sarıalan at 8PM and the last returning departure to the city at 8:20PM .
Dolmuşes from central Bursa heading all the way to Oteller are also reported to be available.
A flat rate—which doesn't depend on the number of passengers—for vehicles is charged at the national park gate. Bigger the vehicle, more expensive the fee (though not prohibitively so).
Minibuses (dolmuş) are available from Sarıalan cable car station to Oteller area, about 10 km away and where all of the hotels are located.
2-person gondola lifts (telesiyej) start from their seperate station next to the cable car station in Sarıalan and head to Çobankaya plateau 3 km away and about 100 mt higher than Sarıalan. A return ticket on gondola lift line costs 10 TL pp, with a 50% reduction for children aged 7-12.
The "two sides" of Uludağ is also evident in the activities it offers: in wintertime it's skiing down the white slopes, in summertime it's taking a walk amidst the woods.
Uludağ is the oldest wintersports resort of the country with the first hotel opened in 1940s. Uludağ offers a number of tracks between fir trees, each with a different level of hardness. Lots of teleskis are available, though unlike many other wintersports resorts around the world, there is not a universal teleski pass system in Uludağ, so you may have to pay each time you use a teleski unless you are using your hotel's own.
Although none of them waymarked, there is a number of hiking trails on the mountain, with the most popular ones being the trail from Sarıalan to Çobankaya and the trail to the glacial lakes and the summit, which you can start from the abandoned wolfram mine (location simply known as Volfram) east of Oteller area. Volfram to lakes and summit hike is reported to take place along a non-waymarked but obvious trail which forks in about an hour and a half after you started walking: trail to right leads to the summit while the one to left leads to the lakes. Hiking Volfram to either location is said to take around 3 hours—though those wishing to see both the summit and the lakes close-up better take their camping gear with them since, although near each other, hiking to both locations and then back at the same day is said to be demanding.
Around Sarıalan is a number of open-air Kendin Pişir Kendin Ye ("Cook it yourself!") restaurants mostly favoured by Middle Eastern (especially Saudi) families where you buy your meat by kilo and rent a grill with some charcoal and cook your kebab yourself.
Otherwise, all hotels in Uludağ are full-board and you'll have your meals in your hotel.
The bars of the hotels are open to anyone (for a fee, unless you stay there, of course).
Although a national park, being a wintersports resort means that those prefering a luxurious bed rather than a bumpy mat under the tentfloor won't be dissappointed in Uludağ.
All hotels in Uludağ are located in Oteller (literally "hotels") area, which is divided into 1. Gelişim Bölgesi, the older development area and 2. Gelişim Bölgesi, the newer development area with a few km inbetween. Many hotels in Uludağ, though, are aimed at skiers and thus are closed during summer.
Organized campgrounds run by Turkish Ministry of Forestry can be found in Sarıalan and in Çobankaya.
It's possible to wild camp pretty much anywhere—apart from the obvious skiing tracks, of course—in the mountain. However, highest areas are covered with alpine meadows, some of the most fragile ecosystems in the world, so it's important to follow leave-no-trace guidelines.