Matala is a former fishing village, which has developed into a modern holiday centre on the Southern coast of the Heraklion prefecture, about 75 km from the city of Heraklion (an hour’s or so drive via Aghia Varvara - Aghii Deka and Mires).
Matala, which was the ancient port of Phaestos and Gortys, is built inside a small, picturesque and magnificent inlet of the bay of Messara, providing one of the best beaches in Crete, where it is said that Zeus swam ashore in the guise of a bull with Europa on his back.
It is worldwide famous for the artificial caves with passages, stone beds and fireplaces, carved into the north face of the coast by the Cretan people from the early Stone Age. They have been probably used as prehistoric dwellings and places of worship, while during the 1st-2nd century were used as tombs.
Today, the tomb-caves of Matala have been put under the monumental care and protection of the Archaeological Service. They are really worth visiting.
During the 60's and early ’70s, the caves were hosting hippies from all over the world who found the place of the flower-power, the perfect expression of their “hippie philosophy”, their “paradise on earth” and that is how the fame of the place spread worldwide.
Owing to its exceptional natural beauty and as the peaceful place contrasts so much with war and destruction, in the late ’60s, Matala became the meeting place of the "Flower Children”. Then Matala was a village of about ten ( 10 ) houses and one tavern.
Nowadays, the hippies are missing, but Matala is still a paradise, with a “flower flavour”, one of the most enjoyable holiday places for peace, serenity and entertainment seekers, a busy tourist place with a lot of hotels, apartments, rooms, tavernas, cafes, 24hr ATMs, and all kinds of shops which compose a relaxing, safe and friendly atmosphere and along with the beautiful surroundings will offer some days of enjoyment, without the feeling of massive tourism annoyance.
Stroll along the stone paved main street with the bazaar atmosphere and gaze at the exhibits of the local folk-art shops with the local art work carved from olive wood or the official museum reproductions of many Minoan items.
Matala is a place to restore the balance of body and spirit. It is the place of the most spectacular sunsets. These caves, combined with the golden sandy beach, the azure colour of the sea and all the pink, yellow, orange and red colours that spring out of the sun disk during the sunset, arouse romantic feelings and act as a magnet attracting many natural beauty lovers who try to escape from the daily routine of city life.
Have a moderately priced meal with traditional local specialities or fresh fish from the Libyan sea and try a glass of the local wine or the pure spirituous drink “Raki” in the picturesque tavernas on the beach of Matala in a romantic and carefree evening.
The most memorable and relaxing stay is in late spring and early autumn, as Matala is jammed during the summer. However, even in high summer, it still has its charms.
Matala can be an ideal starting point for excursions to the numerous sights and marvellous beaches of south Crete and to the archaeological sites of the area: Phaistos, Agia Triada and Gortys. Nearby, the archaeological site of Kommos offers a small scale of Minoan ruins and the Kommos Beach taverna provides excellent grilled fish and the coldest, smoothest “raki” in this part of Crete. After a half an hour hike you reach the clothing-optional Red Beach, where carved rocks will surprise you.