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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.
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 tombs 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.
Matala in a nutshell.
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 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.
Cosy Matala in Crete.
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. Bob Dylan is also said to have lived in Ios.
The beach and the caves in Matala.
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
If you have never heard Carey, I think you should buy 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.
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.
Tavernas in Matala.
One of the best restaurants is Scala Fish Tavern 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 Tavern. Arrive early, it is very popular.
ACCOMMODATION IN MATALA
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.
Matala seen from one of the caves.