Dilek Peninsula-Büyük Menderes National Park

Top choice in South Aegean

This spectacular 277-sq-km mountainous reserve on the Dilek Peninsula has walking trails, stunning vistas, azure coves for swimming, and deep-green forests inhabited by wild boar and fallow deer and more than 250 species of bird, including cormorants, ospreys and flamingos. It encompasses an important wetland zone and a lovely old Greek village. The national park is easily accessible from nearby Kuşadası.

Beyond the entrance, where there's a good information in the visitor centre, four semicircular bays with sand or pebble beaches lie below the road, which has great views from designated pullover points. The road tapers off at a high-security military compound covering the peninsula's end, from which soldiers can train their binoculars on the tourists frolicking on Samos.

The first cove, İçmeler Köyü (1km from the entrance), has a sandy beach, but it is the busiest and not the cleanest, look to the north and there are sweeping views of Kuşadası's urban sprawl. About 4km further on, Aydınlık Köyü is a quieter, 800m-long pebble strand backed by pines, and is busy enough to warrant a lifeguard station, though it is not always staffed.

About 1km further along, the signposted kanyon (canyon) appears on the left. Boards here give information and maps of the park. A 15km walk down a forest path, Doğanbey village has beautiful stone houses, restored by affluent newcomers, cafe-restaurants and a guesthouse or two. A few kilometres west of Doğanbey, the fishing village and ancient Hellenistic port of Karine has a waterfront fish restaurant. The path's first 6km are open to all, but after that you need a permit or to be led by a licensed guide. There is also a 25km cycle track to Doğanbey from Güzelçamlı, just east of the park entrance.

Dilek's third bay, Kavaklı Burun Köyü (1km past the canyon entrance), has a half-moon-shaped pebble beach. The final beach open to the public, pebbly Karasu Köyü (11km from the entrance), is the most placid, and enjoys delightful views of mountainous Samos rising from the sea. If you're lucky, you might see a dolphin or even a rare Mediterranean monk seal.

All four beaches have free wood-slatted chairs, which are quickly taken, and umbrellas and fold-out chairs to rent.

About 200m southeast of the park entrance a brown sign points to Zeus Mağarası (Zeus Cave), a show cave with azure-blue water that is refreshingly cold in summer and warm in winter.

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