Matala in the south coast of Heraklion province has one of Crete’s most spectacular beaches. The beach flanked by sandstone cliffs offers unique moments of relaxation and why not adventure. The swimming and snorkeling are great and for divers there are underwater remains of the Roman port on both sides of the rocks.
Matala is the place where according to the mythology Zeus swam ashore with Europa on his back. According to Homer, Menelaos, husband of Helen of Troy shipwrecked here on his way back home. Matala was one of the main ports of Phaistos and later, around 220 BC of the ancient city-state of Gortys. The sandstone cliffs were probably carved in the Roman era and served as tombs, later were extended as cave dwellings for early Christians. The cliff in which they are carved is from compact sand and quite easy to elaborate. Some of the caves have carved windows and beds others have doorways. Local shepherds and in the 1970s hippies inhabited the caves on and off. Nowadays is a fenced off archeological site.
Tourist development is steadily on the increase since the boom of the 1970s. Hotels, apartments, taverns, restaurants and shops have transformed the once small and quiet fishing hamlet of Matala into a lively resort.
There are a number of excellent beaches around Matala area, such as Kokkini Ammos (Red Sand), 20 minutes from the main beach of Matala with caves inhabited during summer and crystal clear water. Kalamaki, 5 km west of Pitsidia has a wonderful long sandy beach, which is a nesting ground for the caretta-caretta sea turtles.
Boat excursions run daily from Matala to the Paximadia islands and to the palm beach of Preveli in the south province of Rethimnon.