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Matala in southern Crete

Most of us have heard about - and seen pictures from - Matala: the village with the strange caves inhabited by hippies in the sixties and seventies. Seeing the place in reality is a must when you visit Crete.


Today is life, tomorrow never comes in Matala in southern Crete.

Today is life, tomorrow never comes is Matala in a nutshell.


First, Matala was the port of the Minoan city of Phaestos, then the port of the ancient city of Gortys, and then the Romans came. It was the Romans who carved out the nowadays so famous caves. They needed somewhere to bury their dead, and since they liked catacombs the place suited them perfectly. After the Roman era, the caves were used as dwellings for herding shepherds. Until the end of the 1960s, Matala was a small fishing village that no one took no major notice of.


The famous caves, or catacombs, of Matala.

The famous caves, or catacombs, of Matala.


Everything changed when some hippies discovered the place and quite simply moved into the caves. Rumours of Matala spread across the world and more and more hippies arrived. When Matala became too hip, most hippies went on (for example to Lendas and to the palm beach of Vai in eastern Crete), or gave up their hippie life and moved home.


Matala beach in southern Crete.

The beach in Matala early in the morning.

Matala changed when backpackers started travelling here, they wanted to stay in rooms, not in caves, and they didn't mind eating at a restaurant instead of cooking their own food, and they wanted to sit in a bar and drink cheap wine.


The beach and caves of Matala in Crete.

The beach and the caves in Matala.


Matala in Crete seen from one of the caves.

Matala seen from one of the caves.


Cat Stevens, Donovan, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan lived in the Matala Caves in the 1960s.

Two of the catacombs above the beach. I wouldn't want to sleep there.

As you probably understand, nobody lives in the caves today. But they can be visited during the daytime. It was different in the sixties when some of the most famous musicians of the time lived in the caves of Matala, including Cat Stevens, Donovan and Joni Mitchell. The rumour that Bob Dylan lived in Matala in the 1960s is unfortunately only a rumour, but Bob Dylan is rumored to have lived on Ios for a period. True or not, you will find out via the link below.


Read about Bob Dylan and Ios here »


Cosy Matala in southern Crete.

Cosy Matala in Crete.


Joni Mitchell later wrote a song about her experiences as a hippie in Matala. The song is called Carey from her formidable album Blue from 1971. One of the passages in the song goes like this:

Maybe I'll go to Amsterdam
Or maybe I'll go to Rome
And rent me a grand piano and put some flowers 'round my room
But let's not talk about fare-thee-wells now
The night is a starry dome
And they're playin' that scratchy rock and roll
Beneath the Matala Moon

If you have never heard Carey, I think you should listen the album Blue, it is often on the list of the hundred greatest albums of all time. You can see Joni Mitchell singing Carey on Youtube.


"Beneath the Matala Moon" Joni Mitchell sang in the song Carey.


Matala of today is a fully fledged tourist resort with hotels, pensions, restaurants, bars, discos, cafes, shops, bakeries, travel agencies, banks etc, etc. However, much of the old atmosphere remains and it is still an extremely cool place. There are even several aging hippies, and those who wish they had been hippies in "the good old days". What attracts tourists now is, besides the caves and the hippie myth, the fine beach and the relaxed restaurants that line the beach. If you get tired of the beach in Matala, you can make a short hike to the nudist beach Red beach.


Cool restaurants, taverns and bars in Matala.

Cool restaurants, taverns and bars in Matala.

From the square in Matala are many shops, restaurants and Giannis Family Grill House.

From the square in Matala, you can go into the bazaars and buy all sorts of things.


The bazaar in Matala is like the bazaar in Istanbul.

A lot is sold in the bazaars, mostly rubbish I think.


In Matala's bazaars you can shop for handicrafts and textiles.

But there are also fine textiles to buy.

One of the best restaurants is Scala Fish Bar Restaurant on the opposite side of the caves. Here we have eaten fantastic food, not least they serve good fresh fish. Perhaps the best is not the food, but the enchanting view of the mysterious caves. If you want to eat at a taverna that serves traditional Greek food, I can recommend the Giannis Family Grill House above the beach on the way to Scala Fish Bar Restaurant. Arrive early, it is very popular.


Scala Fish Bar Restaurant in Matala on Crete.

Scala Fish Bar Restaurant is located at the far end of the headland.


Archaeological excavations in Matala on Crete in Greece.

The archaeological excavations in Matala are still ongoing.




If you want to experience the true Matala, you should stay overnight. There are plenty of accommodation options, most of them are gathered along a street left off the main road before reaching the beach. Here are some suggestions for good hotels.


Book Dimitris Villa Hotel here »

Book Matala Bay Hotel & Apartments here »

Book Fantastic Matala here »

Book other hotels in Matala here »



Don't miss the beaches of Komos and Kalamaki when you travel to Matala in southern Crete.

Don't miss the beaches of Komos and Kalamaki, which you can read about here »


Learn more about Crete here »







© 2007-2024 | Janni Eklund | Kalispera and Kalimera.