Matala in Crete, Greece is one of the few hippie vacation destinations left in Europe. The hippies living in the caves of Matala made this place famous 50 years ago. Learn everything there is to know about this mythical place and decide if you should go.
Hippie wall art in Matala with the slogan: Music is my weapon, Peace is in my soul

Matala, Crete is THE place to experience the hippie culture first hand. Known for its caves where the hippies used to live in the 60s and 70sMatala is the host of Matala Beach Festival – one of the best musical events that recreates the ambience of those times.

This is a long story and needs a coffee, a beer, or something 🙂 Sit back and enjoy the Complete Story of Matala, Crete Island.

Matala wall painting - Matala Power
One of the most iconic wall paintings of Matala, Crete

WATCH THE VIDEO below (6 min.) to get you started with some Matala views, a few history bytes and some info about the Festival

Continue reading my story if you want to know all there is to know about Matala, Crete. Including some juicy stuff 🙂

Table of Contents

So, you’ve heard about Matala…

You’re either in Crete, or you’re planning your trip to this charming and unique island in Greece. Excellent choice 🙂  
Statue of a hippie holding a sign with - Love is The Answer
In Matala, LOVE is the answer (sculpture made by Katerina Panagaki)

You’re doing your homework and you’re probably wondering what places to visit during your stay in Crete

Crete Island (or Creta) is an exceptional holiday destination and has many beautiful spots that stand a high chance of becoming some of your best memories ever! 
 
One of the most intriguing spots in Crete is Matala, a small seaside village in the South of Crete. If you have time during your stay, go check it out, even if it’s for just a few hours. 
 
Matala is different. It’s special. It’s colorful and it’s uber-hippie.
Wall paintings and hippie jewellery in Matala
Hippie jewellery displayed on colorful wall in Matala

Matala’s position on the world map, almost made this settlement the Southernmost point of Europe. But make no mistake, that’s actually the insland of Gavdos.

The story of the intriguing OLD TREE sculpture

As soon as you arrive in Matala, you see this impressive statement artwork. It’s called the “Old Tree” and it’s made from a 600 years old olive tree, which was supposed to be cut down and used for fire. We’re talking about 6 tons of olive wood here!
The Old Tree sculpture in Matala carved by Spiros Stefanakis

The main themes of the sculpture I made in Matala are the 4 Gods of Olympus: Dionysus is the God of Joy; next is Zeus, the center of the world... what was then to me Matala; Poseidon for the sea and Hermes to spread the culture to the world.

Spiros Stefanakis, author of the Old Tree sculpture in Matala Tweet

So, you see this massive piece of art and you instantly feel there’s something special about this place

The artist who carved this old olive tree is Mr. Spiros Stefanakis, a talented Cretan sculptor. You can find him on Facebook.
 
In an interview, he stated that spending some time in Matala helped him recover after an utterly difficult period in his life.
 
He created this beautiful piece of art as a donation for Matala, as he felt he wants to give something in return to this place.
 
His gesture was not quite understood at the beginning, and he has even spent 1 night in arrest, for not having a work license. 
 
He asked why would he need one, as he was not making any money from that work. The authorities said they have received a report and unfortunately he has to stay in lockdown for 1 night. 
 
Dissapointed by this weird reaction, Spiros stopped working for the sculpture in Matala for 6 months.
 
He got a green line from the new local elect and he continued the work on this project. In the end, it took about 2 years to complete this unique piece of art.
The Old Tree of 4 Mythology Gods
The Old Tree became a symbol for Matala

Intrigued by the Old Tree, I searched for the author and found this interview with him, where I learned about the story of the Old Tree.

Matala BEACH

The 300m long beach of Matala is organized and offers all you need for comfort: sunbeds & umbrellas, showers & toilets, lifeguard & first aid, some watersports & boat trips.

Matala Beach - view towards the caves
Matala Beach - view towards the caves

It gets really crowded during high season, so if you don’t like being jammed, skip it, you have other options. Off season is not that bad though (April, May, September, October).

It’s mostly sandy, but there are also stoney areas on the beach, hence it’s best to have those ugly beach swim shoes with you 🙂  

Matala Beach is safe for children as the water is shallow at the shore. Some strong waves going on during high winds.

Matala is a Blue Flag Beach, among other 115 beaches in Crete. The water is usually crystal clear

There are some beach bars on the beach, for your beer and snack cravings. Plenty of taverns around for lunch.

The gracious Tamarisk trees are responsible for some natural shaded areas on the beach.

Read the reviews of Matala Beach on Tripadvisor

OTHER BEACHES around Matala

  • Kommos Beach
Your closest alternative is only 8 minutes drive from Matala.
 

At Kommos Beach, you can rent sunbeds and an umbrella for 6 . Parking cost is 2€. Wear beach shoes when entering the sea. There are 2 taverns right on the beach. 

It’s usually a bit less crowded than Matala Beach during high season. A big portion of this beach is dedicated to nudists.

Read the reviews for Kommos Beach on Tripadvisor.

 

  • The Nudist Red Beach (Kokkini Ammos)

If you prefer to go nude, you need to hike for about 20-30 minutes with appropriate hiking footwear to reach The Red Beach in Matala (known to the Greeks as Kokkini Ammos). 

It has a beach bar serving only drinks. The guy brags with the best mojito. I didn’t try it so I can’t confirm or deny :/ No foodNo sunbeds, just a few umbrellas. No toilet

Go with low to none expectations and you’ll be happy with this beach. Otherwise you’ll probably leave dissapointed

Some tips for enjoying red beach:

  1. Backpack should contain (plenty of water, snacks or food, beach swim shoes, beach mat)
  2. Take a beach umbrella
  3. Put on walking sneakers or hiking footwear for the trip to the beach
  4. Take the long walk route, the short one is a good sport but ONLY for the very fit
  5. Keep your expectations low
  6. Be prepared to see naked people of all ages and don’t complain about it. It’s a nudy beach after all 🙂
Read the reviews for Red Sand Beach on Tripadvisor.
  • Kali Limenes Beach

A quiet and long beach, preffered by long-term campers is accessible by car. You need about 45 minutes by car from Matala to get to Kali Limenes

Not recommended for children as the water is not shallow. Pebble beach. Has a basic tavern. The view is a bit spoiled by the oil tankers ahead 🙁

Read the reviews for Kali Limenes Beach on Tripadvisor.

ACCOMMODATION in Matala (including CAMPING)

Matala is a small seaside village, so don’t expect to find high-end hotels or luxury resorts here. You can find accommodation at the small hotels or guest houses in the village.
 

CAMPING in Matala

A 40.000 sqm (4 ha) land serves as a very basic camping site, with a sandy ground. Some people say it looks like a big parking lot. Pets are allowed.

 

Matala Camping Site location on map
Matala's Camping Site location on map

There are many shaded areas on this camping site, making it heaven during summer. That is unless there are strong winds and the sand starts flying around 🙂 

Don’t go there expecting too much of it. It’s just a cheap place to spend the night, provided you have a tent or a motorhome. But don’t imagine anything else.

There’s a small daily fee for motorhomes and tents (it used to be 5 €/motorhome, 4.5 €/person and 3.5 €/small tent). Prices may have gone up since last checked.

There is no listing created for this camping site on Tripadvisor 🙁 Here is Matala Camping on Google Maps.

If things improve at Matala Camping and you have some news or an honest review regarding this camping site in Matala, please let me know in a commet and I’ll update the info. Thanks!

OTHER CAMPING SITES around Matala

There’s an alternative camping facility around Matala, more organized, in Agia Galini.

It’s called Camping No Problem or Camping Agia Galini and you need about 40 minutes by car from Matala to get there. 

Camping Agia Galini Crete on map
The distance between Matala and Agia Galini Camping is 30 km

It offers a tavern, a mini market, a swimming pool, pool bar, sunbeds and umbrellas. You can also rent a room, an apartment, or even a tent from these guys.

WiFi, laundry service, power supply. They seem preety well prepared compared to Matala Camping.

Here’s their Tripadvisor where you can read the reviews.

BARS & TAVERNS in Matala

The bars and taverns in Matala take you back in time, as they display an intensely multicolored design. 
A colorful tavern menu in Matala
A colorful menu from a tavern in Matala

They often make people feel nostalgic about times that are long gone. 

They usually play good music and invite you to sit back and unwind, zipping a drink. Or two. Or as many as you want. After all, it’s your holiday. Knock yourself out! 🙂
Cocktail at a bar with a view to Matala Beach
Cheers!

There’s a great variety of Cretan food you can try, as well as natural fresh juices and local drinks like tsipouro or Cretan wines (krasi). 

I especially loved the ambience and aspect of Akouna Matata Bar & Tavern. Here are the reviews for this place on Tripadvisor.
Hippie tavern and bar Hakuna Matata in Matala
One of the hippiest places to drink or eat in Matala by the sea. The place is called "Akouna Matata"

Another appreciated restaurant with a great sea-view in Matala is ScalaTripadvisor.

Beautiful sunsets over the sea together with seafood and fish can be enjoyed at dinner at Taverna SunsetTripadvisor.

View from Sunset Tavern in Matala
Sunsest Tavern is a lovely place to watch the sun go down

There are many more taverns in Matala! I didn’t have time to test as many, but I’m sure you’ll do it 🙂 Feel free to leave a comment with your favourite tavern or bar in Matala!

A romantic restaurant in Matala
Enjoy romantic sunset dinners in places like this one

PARKING in Matala

A large organized parking site is offered at the entry of Matala with a pretty big capacity. This is handy especially for the summer when more people are visiting.

The paid parking lot of Matala
Matala has a large paid parking lot

The cost of this paid parking is 2 Euro/car for 1 day. 

Matala Parking Sign
The paid parking in Matala costs 2€/day for 1 car

If you find free space, you can also park on the street before entering the village, free of charge.

MATALA BEACH FESTIVAL

This is what you don’t want to miss: Matala Beach Festival. This event is like an H. G. Wells time machine for going back some 50 years in time. 🙂

Here is the official website of Matala Beach Festival. And here is the official Facebook Page.

Play Video

Arn Strohmeyer, German author and journalist, wished to launch one of his Matala books right there in Matala. He also thought that a hippie reunion would be nice for old times sake. 

Wolfgang Lightmaster – former cave inhabitant during the hippie period and author of the online hippie community oldhippie.de helped in promoting the idea of a hippie reunion. He also documented in a series of 4 videos the first festival in 2011. 

Watch the first VIDEO below:

Play Video

Here are the three books that Arn Strohemeyer wrote about Matala:

  1. The Myth of Matala – Photographs from the sixties and seventies
  2. Back (then) in Matala
  3. Trip to Matala

The local authorities (Festos Municipality) loved Arn’s idea and organized the first Matala Beach Festival in 2011, meant as a get together with the old hippies. 

The book “Myth of Matala” written by Arn Stohenmeyer, was launched in Matala in the same time. The book exhibits pictures with the caves and the hippies.

Local hoteliers became the organizers and started a wonderful tradition, which continues each June since then.

In 2011, more than 35.000 people gathered for the first event. The hippies that were actually in Matala when the caves were livable, loved the idea of catching up with their old friends.

boy-and-girl-kissing-wall-painting
The hippie version of The Kiss painting 🙂

After the success of the first Matala Festival in 2011, Wolfgang Lightmaster knew that…

This festival will make this village famous again, as the hippies made it in the 60s and 70s.

Wolfgang Lighmaster (Old Hippie), 2011 Tweet
Wall painting in Matala showing a topless lady serving coktails
Wall painting in Matala

He was right. 

One of the 3 brothers who run Valley Village Hotel in Matala (also the organizer of Matala Festival) said:

I think we have written history. This festival is now in the history. The event was an opportunity for the young people to experience Matala, and for the old hippies to come back.

Dimitris Fasoulakis, management Valley Village Hotel & Organizer Matala Beach Festival Tweet

The festival grows every year and is getting better and better! Congratulations to the organizers! In 2019 more than 80.000 visitors came to celebrate “hippiness” in Matala.

The festival lasts for 3 days on the beach of Matala, where a large scene with sound and lights gathers musicians from all over the world. The music genres chosen recreate the breezy spirit from the hippie culture. 

Rock, folk, soul and blues bands from THEN and NOW, take the party people back to a place in time, when music was a true source of feeding the soul. 

Some of the musicians also perform in bars and taverns before and after the festival, extending the nostalgic party mood for a longer period.

The local bars and taverns organize small concerts

 

During the festivity, an abundance of street food caravans with diversified snacks from more countries fill up the streets of Matala. You can even find some exotic food, such as Indian food!

It couldn’t be a true hippie happening without the handmade souvenirs and jewellery 

Flower Power hippie shop
Flower Power Hippie Shops all over the place

 

Besides the kitsch element that is forever present at any type of event, almost anywhere in the world now, heaps of WV miniature vans, hippie t-shirts and other representative items are displayed for sale on the foldable tables or caravans. Because we just buy stuff. Especially during holidays 🙂 

Miniature hippie volskwagen van as souvenirs from Matala
There are tons of hippie souvenirs you can buy in Matala

The Matala STREET PAINTING Event

Strolling on the streets of Matala, you feel like stepping on art 🙂 

Each year, the streets of this picturesque seaside village fill with vibrant free-spirit street art paintings

Each year, the street painting event of Matala takes place on the Sunday before the festival begins

It’s the perfect place for artists of all ages and nationalities manifest creativity. ANYONE can leave a fingerprint for 1 year. 

The paintings stay there for 1 year, until they wash out and the next festival comes. See some pictures from this event here.

I think it’s a brilliant idea and gives Matala a boost of awesomeness that adds value to its name.

wall painting-in-matala-naked-man-and-woman-on-the-beach
Because a monochrome wall is just boring for the Matalans 🙂

Talk to the organizers of this micro-event to find out how you can get a piece of street to paint on, because I have no idea 🙂 Here is the official Facebook Page of the Street Painting Event in Matala and the official website. Talk to them in advance, as they go out of street squares with quite some time before the event. Also, they have a Facebook Group for Street Art and a blog.

STREET PAINTING DATE IN 2020

The Street Painting Event in Matala should be the last Sunday before the Festival, like each year. This means that 14 July 2020 (Sunday) should be the correct date. I will keep you posted in case something changes due to the Coronavirus restrictions.
Play Video

The HISTORY of Matala and the CAVES

Matala has become famous because of its modern history – the mountain caves in Matala were inhabited by the HIPPIES during 1967 and 1975.

Let’s take a walk in time and discover more about Matala’s HISTORY!

I’ll be talking about the hippies in a bit. 🙂 

Here’s what we know about Matala before the hippies…

Archaeologists believe that these caves had been carved during the Neolithic Age (10.000 – 4.500 BC), when humans stopped travelling and settled down.

Neolithic Age was the period when stable farming has its roots, as well as the first animals had been domesticated and used for land work. More and more byproducts of animals like wool and fur started being used. Divison of labor became a necessity. Metal weapons were developed. The building of civilization had started.

An assumption is that they could have been living spaces, due to the large surfaces, chamber division and window spaces.

Various buildings and workshops of metallurgy, woodworking, and pottery were discovered during excavations, close to Matala Village. Thus, what historians state is that the area had been always inhabited over time and also that it has never been abandoned.

During Aegean Bronze Age (2700 – 1100 BC), the Minoan civilization of Crete is thought to be the first advanced civilization in Europe. The MINOANS built grand constructions up to 4 stories high and developed plumbing techniques. The Minoan art that survived over time shows a vibrant artistic expression.

In this period, Matala was the port of Phaistos, one of the Minoan civilization cradles. After the port was devastated, Matala was taken over by the Gorthynians and became again a flourishing port, this time for the city of Gortyn

Gortyn used to be the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrene. During Roman times, Matala was an active port busy with trading, especially with Egypt.

The legend has it that Brutus, the Roman General used one of the caves in Matala, and this is why that specific cave carries the name of “Brutospeliana”.

The historians also believe that the Ancient Romans used the caves at Matala as tombs.

Matala and Mythology

Matala also appears in Mythology. Zeus brought princess Europa to Matala. Europa had the form of a white bull. In Matala, Zeus took the shape of an eagle and flew Europa to Gortys, where they made love. 
 
From Odyssey, historians deducted that Matala was Cape Nysos – the place where the ships of Menelaus had been wrecked.
 
Now, the juicy stuff 🙂 
 

Matala and the HIPPIES

The flowerchildren Era

After 1958, the area started being visited by the flowerchildren. They are said have been bohemian and big spenders, who helped the locals thrive.
 
Here is an excerpt from an article made by cretanmagazine.gr and translated into English on matala.nl (the only source of stories from the old hippies of Matala)
 
The best way of understanding how things were back then is to read the stories of people who were actually there in the 60s.
 

“The first flowerchildren appeared in the area in 1958. According to her, they were decent, well-off people with education and culture who wanted to live in nature, and they were adorned with flowers and lived in the caves.

These first Matala visitors, she notes, were not hippies but flowerchildren. Their basic feature was that almost all of them had a lot of money they spent generously to meet their needs.

She remembers that there have been times when the only bank operating in Mires was unable to cope with the demand for currency by these people.

The first flowerchildren that arrived at Matala were distinguished for their very good attitude towards the locals and the excellent relationships they had with them. The men walked around fully clothed and the women in their dresses and never naked. Indeed, in the sea the girls wore a full-length swimsuit.

Daytime they swam near Matala beach and the neighboring Red Beach, while in the evenings they made camp fires and sat around singing and playing music, inviting the local residents.

Their good financial situation enabled them to eat daily at the Matala cafés and spend money in the bakery and in the shops of Mires. It is remarkable that they always took care when the locals, offered something to repay or to please them.

Among the early arrivals of flower children in the area was also a British Lord, who stayed for a while in the caves before moving for health reasons to an old small house in Matala.

The years after 1958, the flowerchildren increased numerically without losing their quality and good behavior. But the countdown to change the image of Matala began in 1967 when, at the order of Metropolitan Gortyn, the Junta expelled them out of the area.

Most of the old batch of flowerchildren have since stopped to visit Matala in the summer months, and so gradually the place was filled with hippies who lived completely liberated.”

Author: Eleni Vasilaki

Source: Matala.nl

The Hippies Era

Between 1967 and 1975, the mountain caves became temporary hippie residences. This is where the real fun begins 🙂

Here is a video with some pictures with Matala in the sixties.

Play Video

Most of these guys found out about Matala from an article in the Life Magazine (July 19 – 1968 Edition). You can read the whole article here, on Matala.nl.

Hippies living in the caves of Matala on the cover of Life Magazine from 1968
Hippies found out about Matala from an article written in Life Magazine - Edition July 19, 1968

Young Americans, Canadians and Western-Europeans with long hair, wearing faded Levi jeans, loose shirts or floral dresses, came to Matala. 

They were in their 20s, free and open minded. Something which was going totally against what was happening those times.

Some of them stated that their reason for traveling is not wanting to be selected in the army for the Vietnam War

Make love, not war.

Hippie slogan, oposing the Vietnam War Tweet

They found these natural shelters, which were perfect for protecting from the heat, cold or rain. Some of the caves had some sort of stone beds, window spaces and areas that they used as kitchens.

For short stays people were camping on the beach, while others were calling the caves HOME, for months. People remember the beach to have been at least 3 times wider that it is now.

They loved the caves for the possibility of living in a natural environment, out of the box

They loved debating for hours, playing the guitar or other instruments and cook simple meals.

They managed to create a sense of community, following their own rules and living a simple, breezy life. They were helping each other with the daily chores, cooking and general logistics. 

Read below how Kim, a hippie that went to Matala in ’76-’77, describes the feeling she had about this place:

“Getting to Matala was not only reaching a place of natural beauty, but also reaching a mythical place.

The presence of the caves lent a Platonic aura to the place. The caves also added a fascinating primeval element.

We were part of a spiritual movement that made our lives so much happier than the middle-class, suburban, square parents we had grown up with, embedded in their routine and insignificant preoccupations.

We were something else: the genuine ones, the honest ones, the real ones who were going to improve the world to progress, beyond the abysmal stalemate it had reached.

What did we do? Not very much. Being. Socializing, sex, intoxication, nature.

One example was the value connected with doing things slowly, contemplatively, thoughtfully and with mental presence.

That roller-coaster bathing experience was about the only activity, the rest was nature, relations and discussion with other people, and leisure. It was an endless circle of pure fun. 

The mandatory hippie uniform (we hated the military ones) surely meant a lot in those days: the stone-washed Levi’s, the loose fitting clothing, the long hair and beard, the self-assured aura mixed with a laidback friendliness. For girls colourful clothing without too much restriction.”

Author: Kim, Matala Caves Hippie 1976-1977.

This is an excerpt from matala.nl. Read the complete story of Kim here.

"What did we do? Not very much. Being. Socializing, sex, intoxication, nature."

Kim, hippie of Matala Caves '76-'77 Tweet

Remember, those were times without internet and phones, only direct communication. I’m guessing some strong bonds were formed here. 

All the former inhabitants of the caves say they had the best time in their lives in Matala

These guys recall Mrs. Anthusa Zouridaki, the owner of the local bakery, who was like a mother for the inhabitants of the caves. They actually called her “mama”.

The wave splash sounds, together with the wind whispers and the psychedelic music created a very specific ambience. A pair of speakers were placed on the beach, playing Pink Floyd-ish music. 

"The hippie times in Matala were my University."

Georgios Germanakis, fisherman, Matala Tweet

George Germanakis was also an important figure of the hippie Matala. He is the author of the famous wall painting on the Beach of Matala. His words later became the slogan of Matala Festival. 

"Today is life. Tomorrow never comes."

Georgios Germanakis, fisherman, Matala Tweet

I told you some juicy stuff is coming 🙂 

But don’t judge! Just understand that there was no other way. Back then, there were NO toilets for public use, so they had to find a way for “unloading“. So please, don’t make any comments on this.

One of the ex-cave-residents talked about the intimate logistics of going to the toilet. They were using one of the caves that was closer to the water and it was being naturally washed by the sea during the night. A simple, logical solution.

One lady said she actually sold her cave when she left Matala. This was not common practice, but she had a front beach cave so she thought… why not? 

Now, that’s a business woman! She gave financial value to a place that had no initial value. The caves were only being used before, by some fisherman, in case they needed shelter.

In the end, in 1975 the local authorities decided it’s time to stop the bohemian story and 100 soldiers came down here and politely asked them to leave. Please comment below if you were there when this happened and would like to share how it occured.

The locals are still making a living from this period. Well, good for them, because they understood the cultural heritage that the hippies left for them.  

Play Video

Visting the caves of Matala

Sorry, no sleeping in the caves now 🙁

Today, these caves of Matala can only be visited, as they are cared for by the Archaeological Authorities. There is a small fee of 2 and only 1 for kids (under 18 years old). 

The man-made cave museum of Matala is opened all days of the week, between 10 AM and 7 PM

Tip for visiting Matala caveswear sneakers, shoes or similar footwear. Slippers or sandals will not help you, as you have to climb a bit to reach the caves.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope you found some answers you were looking for 🙂 

I leave you with a short Matala Video Documentary

Play Video

What do you think?

Do you have any questions that I didn’t answer? Write them below and I’ll do my best to answer. I love doing some digging up! 🙂

Are you one of the hippies in the 60s/70s? I’d love to hear your thoughts or interesting little stories. 🙂

hippie holiday destination matala
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