Matala is located 68km southwest of Heraklion, on the boundaries of the plain Messara and Asteroussia Mountains. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Crete and certainly the most famous beach of Heraklion. It is famous for the carved caves in the rocks and the hippies of the ‘70s. It is located close to Phaestus, the second largest palace of the Minoan civilization. Matala was the port of Phaestus, and on the Roman Times, it became a port of Gortys.
Matala is located at the exit of a small valley, which forms a large enclosed bay with nice view to the islands of Paximadia.The bay is a beautiful long sandy beach, 300m long, with fine gravel and crystal clear deep water. Moreover, the seabed is quite rocky in some places and the waves, due to frequent westerly winds, are very large and amazing. Furthermore, there is a huge cave on the north part of the beach, from the top of which some "crazy" people splash in the water. The beach is very well organized with umbrellas, toilets, showers, lifeguard, first aids, beach volley courts, snack bars, water sports, excursion boats, etc. Around Matala you will find many options for accommodation, entertainment and eating. Also, a large part of the beach is covered by tamarisk trees, where you can find shade. In the evenings, the bars on the beach are full with many people, both locals and foreigners. Especially in June, the internationally renowned Matala Festival takes place.
The caves of Matala
The most striking feature of the area is the many caves, carved in the soft white limestone thousands of years ago in the northwest walls of the bay. There are several underwater caves, as well. It is believed that the caves of Matala were used as graves in the Roman and the Christian Era. However, many of them have rooms, stairs, beds or windows, suggesting that prehistorically they were used as residences.
The famous hippies of the '60s and '70s found their paradise in these caves, when they visited and stayed in Matala. Hippies expressed themselves freely, enjoyed love and creation. The hallmark of the hippies was the two fingers of victory, followed by the slogan «Peace Man». Around that time there was absolutely nothing in the area, but a small fishing village for the inhabitants of Pitsidia village, so the sense of freedom was unlimited. Matala became so popular with hippies that attracted several celebrities such as Joni Mitchell (sang a song for Matala called “Carey”), Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Joan Baez. However, all that stopped abruptly during the Greek dictatorship (‘70s), when the local Church expelled the "shameful" hippies. Then the “children of the flowers” moved to other regions of Crete (Preveli, Plakias, Lendas, Vai), but most of them moved in Ios island, in Cyclades, and continued their happy life. Matala were abandoned for a long time and the Archaeology sealed the area with the caves.
In recent decades, the region has faced a rapid development and does not remind anything of the atmosphere of the past. Today you will see thousands of people, enjoying swimming on the beach, surrounded by modern hotels and talking about the lost past times. The caves are open to visitors for free, but it’s forbidden to stay there overnight.
Along the coast there are more natural caves, which are accessible by boat. Moreover, many archaeological sites and shipwrecks have been found in the surrounding area. The Cape south of Matala is believed to be the Cape Nysos, i.e. the point where the ships of Menelaus were wrecked (according to Odyssey). Southeast of the village, there are ruins of an ancient temple, and near the beach, a marble urn has been excavated. As we said, Matala were a port of Phaestus and Gortys. Thus, ruins of the ancient sunken city have been found in the sea and some small palaces nearby. Furthermore, on the opposite side of the village, over the hill Kastri, there are ruins of a fort, said Koules, and the ruins of a beacon, a place with fire for signaling over land that enemy troops were approaching. Finally, in a cave nearby, you can visit the old church of Virgin Mary, which was a catacomb during the Christian persecutions. All of this historical and natural heritage has helped to protect the region under the international program Natura 2000.