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I was introduced to Dalyan in South West Turkey just over 10 years ago, having spent most of my working life in the UK, my country of birth. Within two years, I decided to make Dalyan my home when I retired from work. I have never regretted my decision for an instant. Turks are a naturally hospitable people and the language is no problem. While I would love to be better at speaking Turkish, most of the locals want to improve their own English so almost all of the time I find myself speaking English.
There are many diverse opinions on Turkey, and a great amount of ignorance as well. Yes, it is a Muslim country, but it is not Arabic and has looked to the West for many decades – though that emphasis is arguably changing. It has borders with many countries to the east, and the current Syrian conflict and resultant issue of refugees has put Turkey under a greater spotlight than it has been for years.
If you were traveling by road from west to east, it would take you almost 24 hours to complete the journey, and there are many excellent roads in the country. It brings into focus what a vast country Turkey is – and my home in a lovely place called Dalyan, not much bigger than a large village, in the extreme southwest is far removed from areas of conflict.
A Little History
This region of Turkey was part of the Lycian Empire from the 4th Century BC until the time of the Byzantines and the tombs of its kings look across the river down at Dalyan today. Caunos, a settlement still being excavated close to the Tombs was actually a seaport on a peninsula extending into the sea but over the years, silt has formed a delta through which the river winds to Iztuzu Beach and the sea.
The sea once covered much of the surrounding land and intruded as far as what is today Koycegiz Lake, now linked to the sea by the river. The Delta is lined by reed beds, but stories that it was the location of the Humphrey Bogart and Kathryn Hepburn classic ‘’The African Queen’’ are probably wishful thinking.
In the second half of the 20th Century, Dalyan was just a small fishing village whose people lived in wooden cabins on the stunning beach during the hot summer months, then returned back to their homes in the village when winter approached. Development plans changed that.
In the 1980s, it seemed that the plans to build a quality hotel on the beach would be implemented. Iztuzu Beach is a nesting site for the endangered loggerhead turtle and protests led by June Haimoff, an English woman and widow of an American banker, who had first seen the beach ten years earlier, brought those plans to a halt. She was able to recruit a number of famous celebrities to fight the project and she succeeded. It is now part of the Koycegiz-Dalyan Special Environment Protection Area, which covers an area of 460 square kilometers.
Thirty years on, Captain June, as she is nicknamed, still lives in Dalyan. Now in her 90s, she received the MBE (Member of the British Empire) for her work and her Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation ensures that although people can enjoy the beach by day, the turtles’ nesting sites are protected.
The loggerhead turtle is not the only notable wildlife. White storks nest in Dalyan, arriving during March to mark the end of winter before departing back to Africa early in August with their new fledglings. They head due east the length of Turkey before turning at right angles down towards Egypt and beyond. It is a long but necessary flight because they need thermals and therefore cannot fly direct across the Mediterranean Sea.
Those development plans came about because this stunning part of Turkey was slowly being discovered. While visitor numbers had been small, travelers arrived home and talked about this wonderful environment and the word spread. The small village grew and today’s population has passed 5,000 with tourism numbers adding significantly to that in the summer months.
This is an extremely fertile region; fields of locally produced fruit and vegetables are surrounded by hills from which walkers get some stunning views.
While it is hot during the main summer weeks, for much of the year walkers and cyclists can explore and be richly rewarded for their efforts.
Swimming, sunbathing and cruising generally takes over from June to September. The Beach is accessible by boat, a great trip through the Delta or by road, an equally impressive journey past Sulungur Lake and over the mountains. Dalyan itself has bars and restaurants where tourists can enjoy the best of Turkish cuisine and hospitality. No need to change out of shorts because the atmosphere is strictly casual and the temperatures even in the middle of the night are comfortably in the 20s (68 degrees F).
There is no excuse for being unhealthy. The fresh produce in the Saturday market is stunning. There are different fruits and vegetables that come into season, only to be replaced by something else a few weeks later. Strawberries are followed by peaches, apricots and cherries, water and honeydew melons. Pomegranates are available in late autumn and mid-winter is a great time for citrus fruits. Cauliflowers and cabbages are the size of footballs, fresh garlic comes in early summer while tomatoes are at their best through the summer months. Village eggs make everyone appreciate the difference between them and eggs from the supermarket. All in all, these things and the locally produced honey and olive oil make cooking a treat.
The Internet has transformed life in many ways. There is no question of being deprived of news, good or bad, which might have been the case in Dalyan a couple of decades ago. Live sport is available from every corner of the world with Turks themselves mad keen on sport, especially soccer and basketball. There is nothing to really miss about the UK, especially because of regular visits I get from brothers and friends, and of course the many friends, Turkish and ex-pat. I have made during my time in Dalyan.
Where Exactly Is Dalyan?
The nearest international airport to Dalyan is Dalaman, about 30 minutes to the east. From Easter right around to November, there are direct international flights from Europe and the Middle East. Through the months of winter when the climate is still pleasant (the citrus fruit season is around Christmas) there are domestic flights up to Istanbul, a short 50-minute flight, for onward connections.
If you are ever in the area, look me up.
Also check out Stephen’s other article on Lagos.