A safe natural harbour on the Bay of Messara, blessed with a gently sweeping sand and pebble beach, the place in legend where Zeus swam ashore in the guise of a bull with Europa on his back. Many people make this village their base for Cretan holidays, as it is so central on the south coast, and away from the over-development of the north coast. The beach is 250m long and 45m wide.
Matala has something for everyone. Although it has become a popular tourist destination it still retains the charm and character of the quiet fishing village it started as at the beginning of the 20th-century, and the laid-back lifestyle of the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s lives on. Half the beach is fringed by tamarisk trees, leading the eye on to impressive formations of sandstone rock cliffs with their famous caves sliding into the sea at an odd angle, creating one of the most unusual beachscapes on the island.
There have been many pages of history here. Nobody knows quite who started caves but it seems likely that they were first hollowed out as Roman or early Christian tombs. There are other ruins at the eastern end of the village and if you go snorkelling in the clear waters of Messara Bay there are ancient ruins to be seen in the depths.
Matala it is one of just over 400 beaches in Greece that have been awarded a Blue Flag. This exclusive eco-label is given to beaches that offer cleanliness and safe bathing areas and has strict criteria dealing with water quality, environmental management and safety. There is a lifeguard and first aid facilities, as well as toilets and showers.
It is a lengthy stretch – over 2km long and up to 40m wide – of deep golden sand backed by natural dunes and cliffs topped with tamarisk trees, which is also a paradise for naturists and most likely will become an official naturist beach. At the southern end is the Kommos taverna, a short walk away from the famous archaeological site. The lifeguard is to be found here, near the umbrellas and sunbeds, as well as toilets and a shower. Towards the northern end of the beach the sea bed is rock shelf, but at the taverna end it is sandy. The sand quality is good and the beach is very clean; if you enjoy snorkelling there are many fish to be seen.
The excavation of a major Bronze Age site has been ongoing at Kommos since 1976. Kommos first attracted the attention of archaeologists in 1924, when the famous excavator of Knossos, Arthur Evans, heard of large storage vessels being found there. Kommos was in fact a major port, with monumental Minoan palatial buildings, massive stone storage complexes, and a Minoan town (ca. 1800-1200 B.C.). Post-Minoan remains include a Greek Sanctuary that was active until the Early Roman period, when the site was abandoned (ca. A.D. 200). The artefacts discovered there come from as far away as Cyprus,
This is the picturesque secluded beach just 20 minutes walk from Matala. On the way, you pass more caves, some of which are inhabited through the summer, but the exact whereabouts of the better ones away from the village are a closely guarded secret. It has dark reddish brown sand and wonderfully clear water. It is a quiet intimate beach, only 300m long, but well worth visiting.
How to get there
There are two routes to Red Beach depending on how energetic you are feeling! The first involves a steep climb followed by a steep descent. If you are starting from the centre of Matala, follow the road directly opposite the Zafiria bar until the paved road finishes, then keep going along the dirt track and follow the route up onto the top of the plateau. The walk is very pleasant, and there are certainly some good views from 80m above sea level!