Matala is on the southwestern coast of Crete, about a ninety-minute drive from Heraklion (Iraklion).
Why You Should Go to Matala:
Famous since ancient times for its magnificent cave-pocked cliffs, Matala was a prime hippie destination in the 1960's. Today it attracts beach lovers who enjoy its lively nightlife and low-key atmosphere.
Where to Stay:
The Hotel Zafiria offers rooms on both sides of Matala's short main road, with easy access to the beach, tavernas, and shops.
Where to Eat:
Most of the tavernas offer decent food, though standouts include Lion's Taverna, where the gourmet-minded chef "Mike" takes Greek cooking up a notch or two, the Hotel Zafiria's own taverna, and "Beyond the Sunset" at the farthest edge of the cliffs beyond the bars. All are moderately priced with a full dinner available for 15-20 Euro or so.
On a Joni Mitchell quest? The "Mermaid Cafe" is said to have been on the site of the current taverna called "The Waves".
Don't Miss Seeing:
You can't help seeing the main attraction, the amazing angled cliffs with their caves. Take the half-hour hike to clothing-optional Red Beach, where carved rocks surprise the visitor.
A little further afield by car, north of Matala Bay, the archaeological site of Kommos offers Minoan ruins on a small scale, and the Kommos Beach taverna provides excellent grilled fish and the coldest, smoothest raki in this part of Crete. You're also close to Phaistos and the Roman city of Gortyn.
You may also want to visit the Monastery of Odigitria, which is conveniently located next to an ancient Minoan cemetery. Can't get enough Minoans? Seek out the Tomb of Kamilari, an evocative site located on a small rise deep inside an ancient olive grove. Several important artifacts were found at this isolated spot; it is surrounded by a fence but can be easily seen from the outside.
Matala is jammed during the summer; hit it in late spring and early fall for the most memorable and relaxing stay. But even in high summer, it still has its charms.
Most of the shops offer standard Greek tourist items, but there is a gallery featuring local art work, a folkart shop offering many items carved from olive wood, and a store offering the official museum reproductions of many Minoan items.
Getting There: A taxi from Heraklion can be negotiated for about Euro 50,not a bad deal - especially if shared. There is also a picturesque local bus that runs between Heraklion and Matala, but while not without its fascinations, it can be a hassle with luggage or while struggling with jet-lag. But you can't beat the cost - about 7 Euro.
Take the south road toward "Mires" or "Moires" - both spellings are used - out of Heraklion. At Moires, veer to the left and follow the signs toward Sivas; keep on going toward Pitsidia and then to Matala.
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