Matala is located 68km southwest of Heraklion, where the plain Messara meets the Asterousia Mountains. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Crete and certainly the most famous beach of south Heraklion prefecture. 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 served as a port of Phaestus, and in the Roman Times, it became a port of Gortyn.
Matala is located at the exit of a small valley, which forms an enclosed bay with a nice view of the islands of Paximadia. There is a beautiful sandy beach, 300m long, with fine gravel and crystal clear deep water. Moreover, the seabed is quite rocky in some places (especially in the central part of the bach) and waves are common, due to frequent west winds. Furthermore, there is a huge cave on the north part of the beach, from the top of which some people dive. The beach is very well organized with umbrellas, toilets, showers, lifeguards, first aid, beach volley courts, snack bars, water sports, excursion boats, a camping site, etc. Around Matala, you will find many options for accommodation, entertainment, and food. 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 of many people, both locals and foreigners. Especially in June, the internationally renowned Matala Festival takes place.
The Hippie Caves of Matala
The most famous feature of the area is the many graves of the Roman and the Christian Era, carved in the soft white limestone thousands of years ago in the northwest walls of the bay. There are several underwater caves, as well. Many of them have rooms, stairs, beds, or windows, suggesting that they were once used as residences. The hippies of the '60s and '70s found their paradise in these caves when they visited and stayed in Matala. Hippies expressed themselves freely and 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 (who 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 to Ios island, in the Cyclades, and continued their happy life. Matala was abandoned for a long time and the Archaeology sealed the area with the caves.
In recent decades, the region has faced 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 as an archaeological site, 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 the 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 was a port of Phaestus and Gortys. Thus, ruins of the ancient sunken city have been found in the sea and some small mansions 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 the 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.