Yerebatan Sarnıcı / Basilica Cistern

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There are hundreds of underground reservoirs that lie beneath Istanbul, and the largest one of all is The Basilica Cistern. The cistern is in the old city, Sultanahmet, near Hagia Sophia and was built in the year 532, by a Byzantine Emperor.

From the outside, you’d never know this place existed – apart from the long queue of people lining up to visit in summer ,apparently! However, when you buy your ticket (we paid 10tl each as Berkay showed his ID card, but I think for foreign tourists its around 30tl) enter and go down the steps, you see the hidden beauty that lies beneath.
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A forest of 336 columns support the arched ceiling, most of which were salvaged from the ruins of other temples and recycled. They are beautifully lit up from the ground, with the lights reflecting off the shallow water that still remains in the cistern. There are raised walkways over the pool of water, allowing visitors to walk around..
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Obviously this place once held a lot of water, 100,000 tonnes according to the signs inside, and supplied places such as the Great Palace & Topkapi Palace but it is now almost completely drained.

One of the columns is noticeably different to the others – it is known as the crying or tear column as it is wet and has eyes engraved on it which look as if they are crying. It’s thought that this was deliberate, to honor the 7000 slaves who lost their lives during the construction of the cistern.
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Towards the back corner of the cistern, there are two famous columns – the bases of which are carved with images of the snake-headed Medusa. One is placed upside down, the other on its side, and nobody really quite knows why – a mystery!
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It is said that the cistern was forgotten about for a long period of time, and only got rediscovered in the 1500’s when a foreign traveler researching ruins in the area became curious after learning that residents in the area gathered fresh water and fish by lowering buckets into holes in their basements, leading into the cistern – I love this story, what a discovery that must have been! It became neglected even more so after its discovery, and it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that it was cleaned, renovated, properly drained and opened to the public.

Ever since I first saw photos of this place, one thing came into my mind – Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. Does anyone else see that?! I was so excited to visit as it really reminds me of that so much! My photo’s don’t really do it justice, in person it is a little eerie – dim lights, a mixture of atmospheric music and the sound of dripping water from above – quite off putting when drips land on your head!

Definitely a must visit place!

P.S click on any of the photos above to enlarge them and see them in all their glistening glory!

Dolmabahçe Palace / Sarayi

Dolmabahçe palace wasn’t on my list of must see places in Istanbul, I had researched and decided that Topkapi palace would be better, but on our first day we were way ahead of schedule and found ourselves with a few hours to spare after lunch, so we got a taxi from Taksim Square and went exploring.

Sitting along the Bosporus in Beşiktaş, Dolmabahçe is the largest palace in Turkey, with 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 Turkish baths. It was built in the Ottoman era, between 1843 and 1856, ordered by Sultan Abdülmecid I. Prior to this, the sultan and his family had lived at Topkapi palace, but this lacked the ‘modern’ luxuries he desired. Dolmabahçe is very grand, with a lot of influence from European palaces – the Queen wouldn’t look out of place here! It has the largest number of Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world, a crystal staircase, bearskin rugs and beautiful ceilings which they used 14 tons of gold for!
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Before I start, I should say that taking photos inside the palace is not allowed, there are signs everywhere and we definitely broke the rules, but the photos are just too impressive not to share. There are security guards with eyes on you, so you have to be really sneaky and prepared to be told off if you get caught (Berkay did!).

When approaching the palace, you are firstly greeted with a huge clock tower, before you arrive at the ticket booths. There are different ticket types, one that one allows entry into the main section of the palace, and a combined ticket that allows entry into the harem section too. We got the combined ticket but as a Turkish citizen, Berkay got it for half the price and we paid 130tl altogether – mine was 90tl of that.
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You enter the grounds through an impressive gate – like something out of a fairy tale. Once through the gate, you can see the palace sitting perfectly centred behind a large pond, surrounded by trees and statues. There is also a gate straight into the Bosporus on the right hand side of the palace – handy for boats!

At the palace entrance you are asked to cover your shoes, and there are huge rolls of rather unattractive plastic blue shoe covers for this purpose – I dread to think of how much plastic they get through in a day!
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The palace is split into two wings, one is the men’s quarters, with reception rooms for visitors and for official business. This is the part of the palace which was really made for showing off and impressing other countries officials with the luxuriousness of the chandeliers, staircase, furniture and paintings hung on the walls.

I wish I could explain how beautiful the crystal staircase is. You are able to walk up the red carpeted stairs, lined with crystal banisters while the chandelier glistens above. We weren’t able to get a good photo but I felt like I was in Disney movie, a princess walking up the staircase of dreams! If you google ‘crystal staircase at Dolmabahçe’ you can see photos of it.
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In the ceremonial hall, the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier hangs above you. It has 750 lights and weighs 4.5 tonnes – ouch! Although impressive, with the stunning intricately detailed ceiling above it, it wasn’t my favourite. My favourite was a chandelier in a different room with red crystals – I’m glad Berkay managed to sneak a few good photos of that one.
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The other wing is the Harem at the back of the palace– which has 8 interconnecting apartments where the Sultan and his family lived – including his wives, concubines (mistresses), mother, and slaves. It’s really interesting thinking what life must have been like for them as you’re walking through. Although not quite as grand as the other wing of the palace, it still has impressive rooms and chandeliers and is definitely worth paying for the extra ticket for.
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After the fall of the Ottoman empire, Dolmabahçe Palace became founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s presidential palace, where he spent time during his Istanbul visits. In the harem section, you can find the room that Atatürk died in – there is a sign outside the room informing you of this. The wallpaper is gold, green and peach, with matching curtains and ceiling. The bed has a Turkish flag covering it and the clock in the room is set to the time he died, 9:05am on November 10th 1938. I think the palace has a special place in Turkish people’s hearts for this reason.

In 1984, the palace became a museum, and opened to the public. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the palace every year and if you’re in Istanbul you should stop by. You’ll feel like you’re walking through a real life fairy tale palace – and it is totally different to Topkapi (I’ll write about that soon!) so I’m glad we had a chance to visit both.

P.S click on any of the photos above to enlarge them and see them in all their glistening glory!

Taksim Square & the Islak burger/wet burger..

When we booked to go to Istanbul we were both really excited about trying it’s famous street food – top of the list thanks to friend recommendations, was the Islak Burger – I had seen people post about it online and it had never really looked appealing to me but I’m open to new things so I stuck it on the list!

Once unique to Taksim square, islak burgers have started to spread across to other areas, and when Berkay went back to Fethiye after our trip he even managed to find somewhere there selling them! They aren’t really as popular elsewhere though, and to get the authentic experience, you have to go to the home of the islak burger – the top of Istiklal street, on the corner of Taksim Square.
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Taksim square itself is well known for being the central point of demonstrations, riots and protests but when we went, on a sunny, cold Saturday lunchtime it was peaceful and relatively empty. There is a monument in the middle of the square, made in 1928, commemorating the founders of the Republic of Turkey – showing Ataturk in his military uniform on one side, representing the war of independence, and in his ‘normal’ clothes on the other side, representing the modern Turkish Republic.

By night, the area is bustling with thousands of people frequenting its many restaurants, bars and nightclubs – at the end of a good night, they all need something to soak up the alcohol and that’s where the islak burger comes in!
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‘Islak’ is the Turkish word for ‘wet’, so as the name suggests, it is essentially a soggy burger.  A thin, small beef patty, bun and a special garlicky tomato sauce is all they consist of. Once the burgers are cooked and made up, they are put in a glass box on a metal plate – underneath the plate boiling water creates steam which rises up and creates condensation – basically the burgers are treated to their own little sweaty Turkish Hammam experience! It may not sound the most appealing in the cold light of day, but after a heavy night out, you can imagine the appeal!
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As we were in the area at lunchtime, I had my burger earlier in the day than most people! At 5tl each, I can see why people are tempted to have more than one! Berkay didn’t fancy it so he had a doner instead from the same little cafe.

If you get the chance, you should definitely try an Islak burger, don’t be put off by the fact it looks soggy – it’s delicious, especially the way the sauce is soaked into the bread!
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Sent Antuan Kilisesi / St. Antoine Church

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Saint Antoine of Padua Church is the largest Catholic church in Istanbul. Construction began in 1906 and it was opened for worship in 1912. Istanbul had approximately 40,000 Italian members of the community at the time, and the church was built with them in mind.

Located along the bustling Istiklal street, it is still a popular church today, run by Italian priests, holding mass in Italian, Polish, English and Turkish. I think when people think of Istanbul they don’t necessarily think of beautiful churches, so if they stumble across it whilst walking down Istiklal street, it can be a bit of an unexpected hidden gem!
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The church has red brickwork on the outside and is beautifully designed. At the entrance there is a statue of Pope John XXIII who served there for 10 years, he was known to have a fondness of the city of Istanbul.  The ceiling inside is a shade of blue, making it feel particularly bright, and the sun shining through the many stained glass windows adds to the beauty. For a small charge (I think it was 1tl) you can buy a candle to light – we bought two and placed them together.
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We visited in the second week of January and they still had Christmas decorations up – inside we were greeted with huge wreaths, trees and tinsel and outside, a massive tree decorated with red and white poinsettias and a nativity scene. I love Christmas so I was so pleased I got to see it all beautifully decorated – it really was stunning!
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P.S click on any of the photos above to enlarge them and see them in all their glory!

The scenic route to Iztuzu Beach…

Iztuzu Beach, an arc shaped 5km stretch of sand on the Mediterranean coast, is accessible from Dalyan in two ways – either by boat, which takes you to one end of the beach, or by car/bus which takes you to the opposite end. For me, as nice as the river boat is, it’s even more spectacular to go by car, passing by the beautiful, serene, Lake Sülüngür on the way.

As you follow the road higher along the mountain road, among the pine trees, you are greeted with beautiful views of the beach. It looks really impressive and you can really see the shape it forms, a fairly narrow beach, with a small lagoon behind it at one end, and the reeds and Dalyan river behind it at the other.
 
The reason we chose to drive on that day was to visit the Turtle hospital which is at this end of the beach. The hospital is towards the back of the beach, overlooking the lagoon with equally stunning views – mountains in the distance, trees and beautiful pink flowers in the foreground, reeds, and that calm, still water, just beautiful!
 
Another bonus of driving, is the chance of getting a closer look at the wildlife. On our way back along the mountain road, we saw a tortoise minding his own business trying to cross to the other side (I’m sure there’s a ‘why did the tortoise cross the road’ joke in there somewhere!). Berkay stopped the car and helped him along his way, saving him from inevitably getting run over. I love how the tortoise’s legs are just dangling in these photos, bless him, I’m sure he was grateful for the little intervention!
 

Looking out over Ölüdeniz…

 
Back in June we made the most of having the rental car by driving around and visiting various places. One of them being the look out point at the start of the Lycian Way, over looking Ölüdeniz.

We drove a little way up the mountain road, parked up and walked for about 5 minutes to the look out point, passing an old abandoned tent on the way! It involves climbing up a few rocks and it’s steep and bumpy under your feet so you need to wear decent shoes, not flip flops! We went on a particularly hot day and thanks to my Fit-bit, I could see my heart rate rising a lot, it was quite hard work in the heat!

When you climb down the other side of the rocks, you’re greeted with this beautiful view…
 
I’ve never really been a fan of Ölüdeniz, controversial I know! At ground level, I don’t think its that impressive, but from above it’s really stunning. Because it was so hot the day we went, it was very hazy so my photos aren’t the clearest, and they were only taken on my phone, but I have taken higher quality, better ones on my camera before and posted them HERE a few years ago if you want to take a look. Photos don’t really do it justice though!

The view of the lagoon is lovely, and the sea to the left hand side is an impressive shade of blue. You can hear people playing in the swimming pools at the various hotels at the foot of the mountain, watch the boats sailing, or people walking along the beach. I love the mountains in the distance too, just a shame it was hazy.
 
Of course, as with most patches of natural beauty, human interference has had an impact. While trying to enjoy the view, we couldn’t not notice the amount of rubbish in the area – carrier bags, beer bottles, cigarette packets, food packets, water bottles, and the charred remains of various fires people had lit for BBQ’s! It really spoiled it, and Berkay decided to do his bit and went around with a couple of empty bags collecting a lot of the rubbish up… It’s sad everyone doesn’t take their own rubbish with them!
 
You can access the road leading up to the look out point by foot or by car, but you have to walk the last little bit. It’s worth the effort for the view, and nice to see Ölüdeniz from a different angle.

Köyceğiz – Peaceful, Beautiful, lakeside views.

  
Back in June we were due to land at Dalaman late at night and needed to find a nearby cheap hotel for the night where we could just sleep before driving onto Denizli the next morning. Berkay was quite happy to drive around at midnight trying to find a hotel, atypical Turkish laid back attitude, however I kept bugging him to find one, so when we were sat at Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen airport awaiting our connecting flight, he contacted his friend who suggested we stay at a hotel they’d been to in Köyceğiz, so after a very last minute booking, that’s what we did!

Köyceğiz is about 25 minutes from Dalaman airport, and it was around 1 am when we arrived and checked in at the Kaunos Hotel. After a day of travelling and having the stop over at Istanbul, we just fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

I woke up really early just after the sun had risen, and when I looked out of the balcony window I was greeted by this stunning view, the sky had a slight pink tinge and that early morning glow still lingered.

After getting ready and sorting out our bags we headed downstairs for breakfast which was a simple Turkish breakfast buffet. I had a brief look at the pool area which was really nice and peaceful but we didn’t have time to swim as we were driving to Denizli later that morning.
 
I insisted we have a little walk along the promenade after breakfast so I could take some photos of the beautiful Köyceğiz lake. Since it’s a lake and not the sea, its very calm and the surrounding mountains and clouds reflect perfectly on the still water, it’s quite clear so you can see to the bottom in the shallow places. The lake is the source of the Dalyan river, which meets the sea at Iztuzu Beach. Apparently, the lake was formed 7500 years ago, as a result of several earthquakes. A major fault line runs through it, and this is were the sulphuric hot springs that you visit at the nearby mud baths come from too.
 
 
There is no beach here, but a nice long promenade to walk along and take in the views. It was so peaceful we didn’t see any other people walking around, only a few street animals, some people having a rest on a bench, and a lonely boat moored up.

Köyceğiz is very quiet, there are a few basic hotels and cafes, a market on a Monday, and boat trips across the river, some of those going to the mud baths. Because the hotels are basic, they are very cheap, we paid less than 100tl for the night for both of us and there wasn’t any complaints from us! It’s got a real authentic Turkish feel and hasn’t been at all ruined by tourism, it’s a bit of a hidden gem for a relaxing few hours away from the hustle and bustle of nearby resorts like Dalyan, Sarigerme, etc.
 

Going, going, gone.. A Calis Beach sunset.

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Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know that my favourite thing to do in Turkey is watch a sunset, and there is no better place to do that than in Calis!

There’s just something special about sitting on the beach watching the sun slowly shrink and disappear, at the end of another day.
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Cloudy sunsets are particularly impressive, but this was on a clear day back in June, although a bit hazy due to the heat. I stood on the sand in front of Jiva Beach hotel, pointed my camera and snapped photos as the sun disappeared behind the mountains and hills in the far distance, going from a full circle to a tiny red slither, leaving an orange glowing sky behind. I love the slow gradient from red to all shades of orange, so perfect, as if straight off of an artists paintbrush onto a canvas.

People were swimming in the sea admiring the sunset for themselves too, so there are a few heads bobbing around in my photos!
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Apparently, watching the sunset can have actual benefits on our health and attitude. Not only does it get us outside in the fresh air, but it’s also inspiring and reminds us that we should be thankful for each day, for each morning the sun rises and each evening the sun sets. Watching a sunset can apparently also be a stress reliever, as we watch the sun disappear it can help us feel like the weight of the worries and stress of the day is lifted from our shoulders, we can put the troubles of the day behind us. The soft orange glow of the sky can help us see things in a new light, and notice the beauty in things that the harsh daylight can make us easily miss.
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In the summer the sun sets towards the right hand side of the beach, so its partially blocked by the hill, but it still looks beautiful. In winter months however, the sun sets right on the horizon, right in the middle of the sea as you look at it from Calis Beach, I haven’t seen one of those kinds of sunsets for a few years, perhaps in October…

Dalyan – Dinner with a view, nightlife and something for everyone.

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Aside from the beach, neither Berkay or I had visited Dalyan before, so when we had the chance to spend the night there we tried to make the most of it!

After coming back from the beach on the boat, I really fancied fish for dinner. Overwhelmed by the amount of restaurants to chose from, I messaged one of my Facebook friends who lives in Dalyan and she recommended we go to a restaurant called ‘Casa Nova’, where her husband works. So, off we went to find that restaurant and we were not disappointed! The whole restaurant was really nicely decorated and looked really fancy. Note the sign – you will see pomegranate signs and decorations everywhere in Dalyan as it is famous for its pomegranate growing, with millions of trees producing the fruit in the area.
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The restaurant had a main menu to chose from, but also a cabinet full of fresh fish. We decided to share one as it was quite big! I can’t remember what kind of fish it was, but all I know is that when grilled and served it was very yummy! It was served with onions and tomatoes and chips, along with the side salad, bread, dips and olives we had already been given. My friend had also arranged for us to have a fruit plate for dessert, courtesy of her, bless!
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The location couldn’t have been better either, a lot of the tables were already reserved but we managed to get one right on the waters edge, so we had a beautiful view while we were eating – we got to watch the sun go down behind the rocks, boats sail past and admire the floating garden boat while we ate, too! Considering how lovely the setting and the food was, the bill was very reasonable, so I definitely recommend it.
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After dinner, we walked around the town centre, trying not to get lost! At night the roads are blocked off to traffic so you can wander around the many streets and side streets of the main town centre safely – it’s like a square maze of restaurants, bars and shops. There seemed to be the perfect mix of everything, something for everyone. Cocktail bars, coffee shops, souvenir shops, restaurants, and bakeries!

We stopped at one bakery for some cake, as they just looked too good to resist, but they were quite expensive, 30tl for 2 pieces, which shocked Berkay. He still talks about it now, “if i think about that expensive cake I can’t sleep”! I guess Dalyan is a little more expensive than what we’re used to in Calis and Fethiye.
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By night, Dalyan still looks pretty, especially the rock tombs lit up, and the mosque in the town centre. I also loved that they had a little cat garden with beds safe for street cats and a bird house which seemed to be very popular with local pigeons!
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We stayed at the Tezcan hotel, right on the waterfront by the marina. It was fairly basic but had clean rooms and a good buffet breakfast and was in a perfect location. The next morning before we left, we went for a stroll along the marina with a bag of dog and cat food and fed some of the local stray animals. It was so peaceful in the morning.

Over all I really liked Dalyan, the beach, the river, the scenery, nightlife, restaurants… there was definitely something for everyone and it caters for all kinds of tourists. A really lovely place!
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Dalyan – A river boat, Lycian Tombs and Iztuzu Beach.

Our little mini-adventure on the way back to Calis from Denizli took us from Akyaka to Dalyan. We’d been there on a day trip once before as part of an organised coach tour but didn’t see any of the main town, so this time we decided to stay for the night and see a bit more.

We arrived at lunchtime and drove around for what seemed like forever trying to find our hotel! It seems the whole of the main town has a one way system going on and Berkay ended up very lost and very confused! After asking a lot of passers by, we finally found our hotel, Dalyan Tezcan Hotel, which was right on the waterfront.
 
After checking in, we packed a bag ready for the beach and headed to the waterfront and marina, literally only a 30 second walk took us to the ‘dolmus boat’ which runs regular trips down the river to Iztuzu Beach. I think it was 15tl each for a return journey.

The trip down the river, twisting and turning through the reeds lasts for around 45 minutes. On the way, the boats pass the very impressive Lycian rock tombs, carved into the cliff face. There are 6 main ones, the largest of which is unfinished. They have been there for thousands of years, silently overlooking Dalyan, watching the changes happen and the people come and go, oh the tales they could tell!
 
When we done this trip 5 years ago the boats stopped half way through and a nearby fisherman offered to sell you freshly cooked blue crab, but I don’t know if they still do this as we didn’t see any this time!

After the 45 minute trip along the river, the boat came to a sandy bank at one end of the beach, with a small jetty where people were able to disembark. The first thing we saw was this interesting sign, with lots of places listed and the distance to each one.
 
 
Iztuzu Beach is an arc shaped, 5km stretch of sand, it’s quite narrow and looks beautiful from above. You can get the boat to it like we did, or drive (or walk if you’re feeling adventurous!). The boats dock at one end of the arc and the car park is at the opposite end, so I suspect the car park end of the beach is probably less busy. It has toilets, a cafe and sun loungers/umbrellas, but other than that is relatively untouched, even the facilities are environmentally friendly though. Years ago there were plans for a hotel to be built on the beach, until in 1988 Prince Philip, as the head of the WWF, stepped in and begged the Turkish government to rethink. Following a study into the impact it would have on the environment and nature, the project got cancelled and the whole beach and surrounding area became a protected site.
 
The beach is a nesting site for the famous Caretta Caretta turtles, so you can only access it during the day, at night during the summer seasons the turtles come to lay their eggs. A team from Pammukale University have been researching and studying the turtles over a long period of time and have a turtle sanctuary set up at one end of the beach which we visited, but that deserves it’s own post, so I will write one soon!

The best thing about the beach is the golden sand, there aren’t many sandy beaches in the Dalaman area, a lot are stony and pebbly, with only Iztuzu and Patara really standing out to me as pure sandy beaches. The downside to the sand of course is how hot it gets, you know that feeling when you’re walking along in flip flops, getting your toes burnt, and the ridiculous run/dance you do to reach the sea when you decide it’s time to swim, then realise you’ve underestimated how hot the sand is and you have to run back to get your flip flips and take them to the waters edge with you anyway!
 
When we arrived at the beach it was lunch time and we were really hungry so we went to the wooden cafe and ordered some chips and drinks. Surprisingly, the prices were very reasonable, they could easily take advantage and charge a lot more. The shaded benches provided a very welcome break from the sun too.
 
There are wooden sun loungers and umbrellas available to rent on the beach, one sun bed and an umbrella was 10tl, and two beds and one umbrella was 15tl. We hired two and laid down sunbathing for a while before heading into the sea to cool off, it was an afternoon in early June so it wasn’t overly busy.

Apparently it gets very windy at this beach in the afternoon so it may be better to visit in the morning, although I can’t say that we had any problems, the sea wasn’t too wavy and it was lovely and relaxing.

When it was time to leave, we just headed back to the boat area and boarded one of the dolmus boats, then started the 45 minute trip back to Dalyan – the boat was very full though, barely enough room to squish our bums in!
 
Iztuzu beach is definitely worth a visit, if you want to do something really touristy, I recommend the boat taxi to the beach, but if you prefer things a bit quieter then maybe avoid the boats and make your own way to the beach instead, the boats can sometimes be a bit chaotic! The whole area, the reed-lined river, the pine covered mountain and the golden sandy beach is beautiful and very clean and it’s clear that it’s very well looked after, thankfully!