Map of Crete, highliting Matala and KalamakiCRETE ON THE ROAD: MATALA 

Life is today, tomorrow never comes: Our odyssey from Ierapetra to Matala started early in the morning. It was going to be a long trip. We did not want the midday heat reach us on the road so we had to get going… High hopes; the constant feeling was: Tomorrow never comes, Matala either!

Matala had a big question mark until the end in the planning phase of the trip. It was intriguing for its caves but we also knew it was a fashionable beach. And that means crowded. If we wanted to enjoy the more relaxing spots of the west, we had to cut on destinations. Yet, curiosity won. In a way or another we had to cross the island back to reach Rethymno. So why not a quick stop in Matala? Just one day on the beach. We would spend the night in a little town nearby.

A view of the beach of Matala, Crete, with the wall grafiti: Today is Life, Tomorrow Never Comes

It took us almost three hours and a half to get there, mountain roads and bends made the trip longer and tedious. Our first stop was Myrtos, only a few kilometers away from Ierapetra. Tiny and characteristic, with an ash-grey sand beach and in a wind protected position. A relaxing village if one is not interested in busy nightlife and noise. It is possible to visit the Minoan settlement of Pirgo, reachable on foot. Once on top, the sea view is astonishing.

Mountain landscape driving from Ierapetra to Matala.

Mountain landscape driving from Ierapetra to Matala.

Back on the road for another hour, we reached an all-Greek mountain town: Viannos, 560 m a.s.l. The main road divides the city, Ano Viannos, in half. From that point it was almost impossible to see the ocean. They are proud and famous for their olive oil and honey. In fact, olive oil shops are everywhere. A refreshing juice, a strong cup of coffee and a few steps around… there was still a long way to reach Matala. We got back in our car and kept going the burnt greenish landscape of the Mediterranean. Colorful honey bee boxes scattered everywhere. Plants and small bushes of all kinds growing the wild Greek way. Goats and tiresome countrymen lumbering up and down the roads. We never stopped until we reached Faistos (Φαιστός). And even then, we kept going.

Tables of several bars of the city scattered on the same square of the city, Ano Viannos.

Tables of several bars of the city scattered on the same square of the city, Ano Viannos.

Faistos (Φαιστός)

What we missed but you shouldn’t.

The heat had become unbearable, kids were sound asleep. The map was already sticky and wet on top of my burned thighs. Wrinkled, folded, unfolded, broken. I only needed to arrive. Seeing the sign of the Minoan Faistos was a blessing. A short visit was on our list. However, we had traveled for long, the line to enter was endless. It seemed a torture to wake up the kids for an afternoon stroll under the burning sun in the ruins.

I knew my eldest would have appreciated it. It is best kept than Knossos. As a matter of fact, I recommend anyone interested in history to devote a whole afternoon to Faistos.  Knowing it was not our last time in Crete, off we went. To Matala. The last effort, and we would finally see the caves.

Matala  (Μάταλα)

After the sacred rock, the caves of peace

Carved tree at the entrance of Matala Crete

Welcome to Matala.

Sign seen on a Greek taverna.

Sign seen on the wall of a taverna.

Finally in Matala we found a super crowded beach and lots of problems to park. When that was settled, our next priority was lunch. A tiny tavern on the beach with a superb view of the caves was the chosen place.

Delicious grilled octopus and Greek dolmades (grape leaves, stuffed with a rice mix, shaped into little rolls and boiled) were nothing but smalls bites of heaven. Fresh white wine, warm loukoumades with tons of local honey, and a shot of raki. We were done for good!

After that, all we needed was a rest on the beach. Here, the seaside is a mixture of sand and pebbles, a bit uncomfortable for bathing, mostly for kids. It is well protected from strong winds, yet the waters were not as quiet as we found in other parts of the island. Nor as shallow. In fact, we were not able to leave the kids play on the shore without keeping a constant eye on them. Something we had never experienced before in Greece.

The caves on the beach of Matala.

Despite the clear waters, the sea was deep, sassy and with strong currents.

Despite the clear waters, the sea was deep, sassy and with strong currents.

It’s true, the sea is clean and crystal, but I did not feel safe. After a while, our kids themselves decided to move back to the beach. This was quite annoying since I know how much they enjoy being in the sea till late. After all the road done, we didn’t want to leave. Anyway, we knew it was best to walk around the town for a visit. Then, we would head to a nearby village where we had reservations for the night.


A black Beetle. A car with hippie flowers on the streets of Matala

A black Beetle. A car with hippie flowers on the streets of Matala.

Shops in the village, Matala.

Shops in the village, Matala.

Playing hopscotch on the streets of Matala, the city of tomorrow never comes.

Playing hopscotch on the streets of Matala, the city of tomorrow never comes.

Carved faces on trees in Matala, Crete

Carved faces on a trees.

The town still lives on the fame gained during the sixties. Back then, alternative rock singers, as Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell lived in the caves. Hippies all over the World overtook this place in the 60’s and 70’s, leading a simple and natural life. A life of free love and peace.

Things have changed as time went by, but something remains. Not only here; all over Greece. But that’s another story.

Shops and bars have a bohemian touch, there are bookstores and pubs everywhere. Everything is colorful, cheerful and stimulating to the senses. It’s a little fishermen village where to spend a day. Or a month. I liked it a lot, I would have enjoyed it more had the sea been more child-friendly.

MATALA (Μάταλα) in Mythology. Zeus seduced the princess Europa taking the form of a white bull, then crossed the sea bringing her to the beaches of Matala. There he changed into an eagle and flew her to Gortys where he had sex with her. 

Kalamaki (Καλαμάκι)

Sweet sunset, sweeter dawn

We drove off to Kalamaki on an empty road and got there in a few minutes. It is a small town, we only found a few tourists and even less shops. We drove past our hotel and continued to the ocean.

Enough was a sarong on the empty beach to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. The children were free to have a bath and play on the soft sand. It was a perfect, lonely, endless beach with a great landscape in the distance.

We couldn’t stopped taking pictures of the sun, its reflections on the water, and a distant islet. Our long trip on the road was finally rewarded with one of the most beautiful sunsets. It was magical, powerful, silent and memorable. It joined us as a family, together on the same piece of cloth, wishing a sunset wish.

Another couple of hours in the dusk went by, we had dinner by the sea. A giant dish of grapes was waiting for us in the hotel. One more feast. That’s the Greek way.

After an early breakfast, again on the beach, we left the town without much ado. We still had miles to go. Our next city was all the way across the mountains.

Sun setting on the horizon. Beach of Kalamaki.

Sun setting on the horizon. Beach of Kalamaki.

Find Accommodation in Matala or do as we did, sleep in Kalamaki!! 

Next stop: Rethymno



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