Set just off the south-west coast of Turkey, along a scenic river and near a stunning protected beach, Dalyan is a turtle paradise and the perfect destination for a relaxing getaway.
What’s best about Dalyan, or almost best, is that it’s flat. Gloriously level, because of course it sits by a river. While much of the coast of tourist Turkey is hilly and beautifully so, it’s not always good for people less mobile, especially for anyone in a wheelchair or using a mobility scooter. Dalyan bucks this trend.
It sits at the head of the Dalyan Çayı delta, a short transfer from the airport and about 30 minutes from the coast, which you can easily reach by boat. All for hire, you’ll find these water-bound dolmus running up and down the river, often linked to the many hotels along the banks.
The journey to the sea
On the gentle journey to the sea, you’ll pass through person-high reeds and by fish hatcheries - Dalyan actually originates from the old Turkish word for these.
There's a gentle charm about the place, and it’s more modern than old; but when you look across the remarkable cliff faces, you’ll spot spectacularly carved and centuries-old Lycian tombs. They’re a reminder that this region had a sophisticated civilisation centuries ago.
If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of a kingfisher, and Golden Eagles are sometimes spotted here too - usually causing a stampede for the binoculars. And what a joy it is to see the turtles popping out of the water, always with a startled face.
If boats aren’t your preferred mode of transport, busses depart from Dalyan town square at 30-minute intervals, wending their way up the craggy cliffs, covered in pine trees. You’ll get to see the real glories of this coastline along the way, something once seen you’ll never forget.
The beach is actually a long spit of land - incredibly clean and set up with beds, umbrellas, a cafe, changing rooms, showers and loos. In fact, it’s remarkably well organised, which is not always the case in Turkey, although more so these days.
It’s a beach of enormous importance. In the late ‘80s, there was intense debate with regard to tourist development in the area, but the beach won and is now protected to allow loggerhead turtles to lay their eggs and for their hatchlings to make their way, unimpeded to the sea.
The beach and shallow lakes behind it are cleaned by hand daily to ensure no plastic wrappers, cigarette butts or in fact any human debris will interfere with the turtles.
Iztuzu beach hosts a turtle sanctuary for injured animals, and it’s salutary to see these gentle creatures learning to swim again with just 3 flippers or after a blow to the head.
There’s also an ongoing debate about caging boat propellers to further protect the turtles, but so far, it’s proving far too expensive for the boatmen to do.
Once back in Dalyan after an afternoon relaxing on the beach, you’ll likely want to do some food shopping. You’ll be able to find an adequate supermarket, butchers and bakers.
There are no candlestick makers, but there are many Turkish ‘designer’ goods available, several jewellers and an amazing store specialising in suzani - a silk or cotton embroidery from central Asia, which is distinctive in style and can be used on wall coverings, fabric shoes or bags. There’s also an antique shop, which sells pleasingly good quality artefacts at fair prices.
One of the highlights of the week is the Saturday market, where the extent of goods and food for sale almost defies belief.
It’s certainly not just for tourists: the townspeople and their country cousins come here to buy specialist building tools, hardware, plastics and endless mountains of vegetables.
Visitors can buy cheap clothing and shoes, all with UK high street labels, albeit sometimes with inexplicable spelling. But the best part is just watching the people; everyone comes to town on market day.
A huge number of restaurants, covering all budgets and many tastes, are expected in every Turkish town. Dalyan is no different, but the small jetties over the river add a twist to the seating arrangements. They’re very popular with tourists.
Italian-style coffee, served alongside cakes that would grace Vienna, are on offer, as is the iconic Imam Bayildi aubergine dish. Although you can also have beans on toast if you prefer.
If you take a stroll off the main thoroughfare, you’ll find tucked away a great jazz bar/restaurant, with citrus trees providing the roof. It’s a perfect place to end a great day out in Dalyan.