When you arrive in Almaty, the former capital and largest city in Kazakhstan, you are immediately drawn to the view of the surrounding snow-capped mountains and the abundance of trees and vegetation everywhere you look. Lush and green are the words that come to mind.
For a panoramic view of the city and its impressive landscape, visitors climb the small Kok-Tobe mountain, which is very easy to get to from the centre.
This was the Kazakh capital up until 1997, when Astana took over as the country’s seat of power.
But the city remains the largest in Kazakhstan, with more than 1.6 million people spread out over an area of some 700 square kilometres, and it is a major centre for business and culture.
Almaty is well known for its variety of apples, and the city is often referred to as the birthplace of the apple. The name used to be Alma-Ata, which means ‘father of apples’.
The city was part of the ancient Silk Road and it lies at the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains. It is served by the Almaty International Airport, where dozens of international airlines operate from.
There is plenty to do in Almaty in terms of culture: the city boasts some 18 theatres, 90 museums and art galleries, as well as many cafés and entertainment venues.
But there is also the outdoors for those keen on some adventure. And whether it is winter or summer, the chain of high mountains nearby are the place for a great escape.
The Small Almaty Valley is where a lot of people head for a break, being just a 20-minute drive away.
One of the main attractions is the Shymbulak ski resort, which also offers lots of sports activities in the warmer months. International music and cultural festivals are also held in the mountains.
The cable cars make it easy to get around the valley and they operate all year round. Shymbulak has a variety of slopes and lifts and it meets the standards of the International Ski Federation.
Shymbulak is in the Zailiyskiy Alatau mountains and is 2,260 metres above sea level. The average snowfall is about 1.5 metres, with an average temperature of +25С in the summer and -7С in the winter.
Another key attraction is the nearby Medeu ice rink, which is a bit further down the valley and only operates in the winter. But roller blading and other activities continue in the summer. This is 10,500 square metres of fun!
As many as 3000 people can skate on the rink at the same time and the spectator stands can accomodate some 8500 people.
The ice rink is frozen articially, with a new system installed in the early 70s. But the original rink dates back to 1949.
As well as being a family attraction, many champion events are held at the rink and more than 120 world records have been broken there.
The cable cars transport visitors between Medeu and Shymbulak and there are ambitious plans for expansion and development at both sites in the future.