Glorious Dalyan

Published on: Sunday, July 14, 2013


Nourish your body on a yoga break in the beautiful Turkish town of Dalyan but you'll find that turtle spotting and mud baths are therapeutic too, writes Lorenza Bacino.

As I salute the sun on my first yoga practice at Spectrum Turkey yoga retreat in Dalyan, I’m greeted by craggy peaks at sunrise. My nostrils quiver with pleasure as the gentle breeze carries the scent of wild thyme, sage and rosemary. The view is breath-taking and could not be more conducive to calm reflection and healing.

Pomegranate trees, orange groves and the sound of running water make this an idyllic spot for a yoga sanctuary. The atmosphere is one of positive energy, creating a feeling of openess and support. Spectrum is a place to nurture your body as well as your soul. Hosts Joanne and Tom are hugely welcoming. Joanne offers various types of massage including hot stones, swedish body massage as well as emotional freedom therapy (EFT). The sanctuary is normally booked by yoga teachers who bring small groups of up to 15. We were eight strangers; our teacher was the only connection we initially had and it was perfect.

Energized by our practice and a copious breakfast prepared by local staff, our small group decide to seize the day and head off to explore Dalyan, nestled in south west Turkey. As we hit the track into town, the sound of the call to prayer from the nearest minaret reminds us we are in a very special place – a place where east meets west.


River boats and rock tombs

We are drawn towards the Dalyan Çayı river, and from our spot in one of the numerous restaurants and cafes along the banks, we gaze up at magnificent ancient Lycian tombs cut into the rock thousands of years ago. They overlook the town and are a reminder that Dalyan is unique both culturally and geographically. The river breathes life into the town and stretches to a delta and conservation area on one side and to a lake and the Mediterranean on the other. Thanks to its location, there is a mixture of fresh water and sea water, which contribute to creating this place of outstanding natural beauty. When travelling down the river on the taxi boats, you can often see turtles bobbing about in the water – and sea snakes.

These boats ferry people up and down the Dalyan river navigating past reeds, either to Lake Köyceğiz at one end, or through the delta to Iztuzu Beach (Turtle Beach) at the other. I’m eager to visit this 7km-long (4 miles) sand spit where the endangered loggerhead turtles lay their eggs. A local bus meanders through pine covered slopes on the 20 minute journey to the beach.


Turtle beach

Mountains and hills back one end of the beach and as this area is a conservation site; there are no houses or hotels.

Where the bus arrives, you alight to find Kaptan June’s hut which is known as the ‘turtle museum’. June Haimoff or ‘Kaptan’ June, as she’s fondly known, is a 90-year- old English lady, who’s spent the last three decades defending and protecting the beach for the loggerhead turtles that come and lay their eggs there at night between May and September. As tourism in the area has grown, so has the danger to the turtles and they are often injured by the propellers of the boats or have their nesting area disturbed by visitors on the beach. Thankfully, the beach is now out of bounds at night during the nesting season, but by day, rather touchingly, you can see evidence of the turtles’s visits, thanks to protective cages laid over nesting sites.

June shows no sign of slowing down and her next hurdle, she tells me, is to get Iztuzu Beach onto the UNESCO World Heritage list. When booking a boat trip, it’s worth checking for a sticker showing the boat is turtle-friendly. This means it should have a cage over the propeller to prevent injuring these beautiful creatures.

A pleasurable way to return to Dalyan is to walk the length of the spit (about 40 minutes) to the ‘boat end’ and take a lazy boat trip through the reeds and the delta back into town.


Island life

Our yoga group thoroughly enjoys this luxurious all-day boat trip from Gocek, a 40 minute ride from Dalyan towards Dalaman airport. The boat dips in and out of coves, occasionally dropping anchor and we gleefully plung into the delicious navy blue water. Masks and snorkels are available too. There are a loose collection of 12 islands. Some are just small rocks jutting out of the sea in contrast to one of the largest, owned by Turkey’s equivalent to Richard Branson. His rather large villa can be seen among the olive groves. Smaller villas also adorn the hillside. As we return to the boat after a swim in one of the coves, a small boat draws up, selling pancakes and ice-cream – a very welcome surprise.


Roman ruins

Take a row boat across the river and stroll for about 20 minutes beneath the rock tombs until you reach the ancient Roman city of Kaunos. Take hats and water for drinking as it gets very hot in the day. The main area of Kaunos is the amphitheatre, from the top of which you can enjoy a spectacular view of the delta, turtle beach and Dalyan. The ruins extend up the craggy peaks and all you can hear is the sound of bleating goats on the wind.

Beware of the seemingly innocuous elderly lady at the café on the Kaunos side of the river. You will find it impossible to resist her ‘iced tea peach’ whilst waiting for the row boat to take you back across to town.


Mud baths and wrinkles

Our search for eternal youth took us on another boat trip to the Sultaniye thermals and mud baths. The mud is said to have anti-ageing properties and if you let it dry in the sun it shrinks your skin and removes the wrinkles at the same time. I’m not sure this is scientifically proven but I enjoy the carefree feeling of a naughty child rolling about in the mud. Once the mud is washed off, you can luxuriate in hot thermal baths, or plunge into the cool waters of Lake Köyceğiz.


Eat: There are over 200 places to eat in Dalyan. My favourites include Kordon Restaurant at the start of the main drag where fish of the day is usually grilled sea bass or sea bream. Alternatively, try the shaded, family-run pancake house called Sevgi Gözleme.

Other activities: Include paragliding, diving, rafting, horse riding and jeep safaris to more inaccessible mountain villages and into the amber forest. See Akhan Travel for more info.