The road leading south-west from Phaistos finishes at the small,
beautiful bay of Matala. Located about 70km south-west of
Heraklion and with a year-round population of only 300
inhabitants, Matala has seen great tourist development due to
its exquisite beaches and spectacular caves. According to
archaeologists, prehistoric people used to live in these caves
and, in the 1st and 2nd centuries some of them were used as
tombs. During ancient times, Matala was the second port of
Phaestos and, after it was destroyed in 220 BC, it became the
port of ancient Gortina. Wreckage of Roman ships have also been
found, as well as some evidence in the sea of the ancient town
that had subsided. In more recent times, the village was a small
fishing settlement until, in the 1970s, it became an
international meeting place for Hippies who used to live in the
caves where the prehistoric inhabitants used to dwell. Today,
these caves have been closed and protected by the Archaeological
Department. Interesting places to see include these caves and
also the Monastery of Odigitria a church dedicated to the Virgin
Mary and the Apostles. Originally a small fishing village
today has developed into a holiday resort with several hotels,
pensions, and rooms to rent as well as a campsite. There are
many charming tavernas on the beach. The small, beautiful bay of
Matala, with caves hewn into the cliffs, features one of the
best beaches on Crete. The Koule fortress on the Kastri hill is
an attraction that should not be missed by the visitor.
The artificial caves carved into the rocks are a famous feature of the village. They were carved thousands of years ago and it is thought they were used as Roman or Early Christian tombs. However, some of them contain porches, windows and beds carved out of the stone so their purpose all the centuries ago is uncertain. Their more recent fame arose during the 1960s and 1970s when Hippies from all over the world decided to take up residence in them turning the area until the 1980s into a Hippie paradise.
South of Matala there is a huge rock formation known as Theosyni, which offers a panoramic view of the Messara Bay. Near the Kouroupi rock there is the spectacular Red Beach . The area of Matala is an ideal location and starting point for excursions to the archaeological sites in the area: the ancient villa of Pitsidia, the archaeological sites of Laggou, Phaestos, Agia Triada and Gortyna; the Monastery of Odigitria, the gorges of Ayiofarango and Martsalo.
About 1.5 km further is the long sandy beach of Kommos. It is one of the longest on Crete and the water is crystal clear. The golden, sandy beach, where the careta-careta tortoise lay their eggs is unspoilt and charming. The view from the beach is also magnificent. At a distance one can distinguish the bleak isles of "Paximadia", the range of Sphakianes Madares, and the legendary Mount Psiloritis. The ruins of the old Minoan harbour, Kommos, are a few metres away from the beach..