Located on the south east part of Crete, Matala is known for it’s golden sandy beaches, the town is located in the prefecture of Heraklion but offers something different away from the big tourist packed resorts on the east coast of Crete.
Matala was the ancient port of Phaistos and Gortys and a former fishing community which has developed into a little known holiday Mecca. It is located 4 km south west of the village of Pitsidia and 75 km from Heraklion.
There is so much more to Matala than just its beaches, take a boa trip out and see an ancient underwater city or visit the caves where the like sof Bob Dylan played when he lived in the town.
Beaches and caves of Matala
There is 1 main beach in Matala which always attracts the crowds but luckily never really gets too overcrowded. The beach is the site of the caves of Matala and what the small town is known for in and around Crete. The caves are actually artificial, carved out in neolithic times. There is evidence of tombs found inside the caves dating back to Minoan, Roman and early Christian times. It was once said that Brutas himself stayed in the caves. More recently the caves were occupied in the late 60’s and 70’s by a hippy commune.
The hippy commune was not totally welcome by the locals and in the end they were moved on and the caves are now protected by the Government. During this time many famous musicians of the time visited the cave from Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, all who composed songs about the beauty of the area.
Nowadays you are free to enter the caves during the daytime, but no longer permitted to stay in them overnight. Camping is still permitted in Matala but now only on certain area’s and is strictly controlled. It’s recommended if you want to enter the caves that you were suitable footwear as the limestone is very slippy and quite dangerous. The caves themselves aren’t too deep so no torch is required.
Nearby, the archaeological site of Kommos offers Minoan ruins on a small scale, and also further out in the bay you can dive down to the ancient city of Gortys, from roman times where the of Roman capital of Crete has sunk into the sea. Its was the Roman capital around 220 B.C. When diving around this area you need to bring your own scuba diving equipment as there are no scuba dive centres around this area, the closest lies in Heraklion City.
Out and about
There is a local market offering all manner of local produce and goods, take your time to wander round this and you can find some great bargains much lower than the local stores. As well as the market you will find most stores offering a wealth of ceramics and potteries as well as other locally produced tourist driven items, but seek out the gallery of Matala for gifts carved out of olive wood, local honeys and some of the smoothest Raki on the island. Raki is available all over Crete but the locals of Matala claim its the best on the island.
If you want a free all over body mud pack then you can hike up about 40 minutes from Red beach to find a pleasant Oasis “Clothes optional” where you can use the clay on the cliffs mixed with some seawater and rub it all over your body and lie in the sun until its suitably dry before washing it off. You will come away with softer skin and feeling suitably refreshed.
Grabbing a bite to eat
You will find an assortment of beach Taverna’s but some of the most highly recommended restaurants has to be the Lions Taverna, offering excellent Greek food. The Hotel Zafiria has an outstanding Taverna with well priced food. Also try out the adeptly named “Beyond the Sunset” near the cliffs beyond the rest of the bars in Matala. Also you must try Minos Pallas for a very Greek welcome and some excellent dining.
Along the beachfront next to the steps onto the beach you will find some excellent little Tavernas offering freshly caught fish dishes, ranging from bream, grouper, squid and hand caught octopus. The best of these are Taverna Eleni, Maria’s Taverna and Taverna Sirtaki.
Most Tavernas in double up as bars as well and you can sit and enjoy a Raki or two watching the sunset over the bay of Matala. But for those who want a bit of extra nightlife then head to “Disco Row” try out Captain Hooks for a wonderful night. Just remember to avoid drinking too much and being the near steep cliffs –