From the Palace of Festos there is a turn-off to Matala, which is 7 miles (ca. 11 km) away. Before you reach Pitsidia after 4 miles (6.44 km) and after another mile you will notice a dirt road which leads to the right to Kommos, the old port of Festos.
This settlement flourished from the Neopalatial period to the Romans. During the excavations, a sacred complex with surrounding buildings were discovered, which dates back to the 1st century AD. The buildings in the southwest were probably warehouses or port facilities.
7 miles (ca. 11 km) further is the small village of Matala, which was the second port of Festos and later of Gortys during the Roman era. The caves with the sand beach and the semicircular bay are an impressive scenic phenomenon.
More photos about Kommos:
The caves of Matala were struck from the ocher, rugged and oblique layered sandstone rocks. The steep walls of the valley, which is open to the sea, had probably been used for living caves since the 6th millennium BC. The soft sandstone can be worked even with very simple stone tools.
The Minoans had their main ports further north in the already mentioned and closer to Festos located Kommos, where excavations still take place, but the protected bay of Matala could have been probably also used.
The saga also tells us that Zeus had landed here in Matala in the form of a bull with Europe on his back. Homer writes that Menelaus suffered here a shipwreck on his return from Troy.
Finally, for the Romans, Matala was the most important port, along with Lendas.
Thus, it is only certain that all the caves were man-made, and that they were first built and arranged as Roman and early Christian graves. The first Christians used the caves as tombs and created sarcophagi inside.
However, since then, they have been used repeatedly and in any different way, so that it is impossible to establish how they had originally looked or were created.
Some caves have windows and doors and cut-out seats or beds, which were probably once grave slabs. Others are not more than cut-out cavities. The locals also lived in them time and time.
In the year 823 AD, the Saracens landed in Matala, from where they besieged and destroyed the provincial capital of Gortys and finally conquered Crete. In WW2, the caves were used as ammunition dumps.
But the caves of Matala became only really famous in the 1960s when they were the abode of a large international hippy community. It was supposed that Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell were here (‘they’re playing the scratchy rock and roll’ from the 1971 album ‘Blue’).
The last ‘real’ hippy here was Scotty until a few years ago. He arrived at Matala in 1964 and had spent his time on earth here until a few years before his death at the age of 76 in 2016.
The time of the great Hippy community ended only when the Greek authorities placed the site under monument protection and shut down. The Hippies moved on to the palm beach of Vai for a limited time.
Today, the caves are fenced and can be visited daily from 10am to 7pm from April to September (entry 2 Euros). At night there is a police patrol, and they are illuminated by floodlight, so that no one can enter there anymore.
In winter, however, the site is often not locked and can be visited at any time.
When arriving by car, one should use the parking behind the beach (parking fee 2 Euros), which is indicated on the right when you reach the village. During the high season, however, this place can be full of cars and there is only a limited number of parking spaces (3 Euros) in the Hotel Street. If these are also occupied, there is only the possibility to find a parking facility on the side of the access road.
By bus, it is possible to reach Matala from Mires or Heraklion, where it stops directly at the entrance of the village.
It is true that there are still people who will tell you, that Matala with its hippy community in the caves, is ‘the most desirable tourist beach on Crete’ but these times – if they ever existed – are legends and the place is in spite of its fame surprisingly small and in 10 minutes everything of it could be visited.
Basically the place consists of a single pedestrian zone, which runs behind the beach. There is the market and numerous tavernas on the right, while the ‘old Matala’ is squeezed against the rocks on the left side.
More photos about Matala:
If the crowds on the beach in the semi-circular bay of Matala take over, you can reach the Kokkino Beach (Red Beach) in 20 to 30 minutes by foot. The route can also be covered by boat.
The reddish-golden beach with its nudists and the slightly downed ‘Kantina’ is located south of Matala and one either simply follows the ‘Hotel Street’ away from the place, where one meets an unobtainable path, but in sections not easy to walk.
There is an easier, but longer route from the village. This one is followed by the white arrows painted on the main street.
The Kommos beach, on the other hand, is in the other direction, north of Matala and one has to follow the gravel road from Pitsidia. There is a miles-long, natural sandy beach.
Overview of currently available hotels in and around Matala at the best price!
Click here: Directions Matala.
(Duration 1 min 11 sec)