Beautiful beaches are not at all unusual on the island of Crete. The whole coastline is a widely varied, but exceedingly beautiful paradise. From seaside fishing towns with tiny sandy shores, to imposing jagged rocks that loom over you as you take a dip in their coves, Crete’s beaches are a marvel to those seeking a vacation that is out of the ordinary. However, if you’re new to the island, picking a beach to go to can be a bit like playing roulette: you’re never sure what kind of beach you’re going to get until you arrive at the water’s edge. And if you aren’t accustomed to relaxing, you may not know where to go or how to do it. Let’s say you want something refreshing, something totally out of the ordinary. Something so unique and out of your usual comfort zone that you simply must experience it for yourself. So, come with us. Take a drive down, (or rather, up and down) the coastal highways of the island. Ninety minutes or so from the Wine Dark Sea villas, waits an adventure to another part of the island, a beach that, for many, acts not only as an escape to nature, but as a portal to another time…
Pass through the bucolic mountainside dotted with ubiquitous olive groves, and several small villages. After several minutes you reach the pass leading to Matala beach. As you approach, you drive through a single boulevard entrance into the village, you find yourself face to face…to face…to face…with a giant dead tree that has been carved into multiple faces. It’s mystical, almost like it belongs in some popular fantasy franchise, though you’re not sure you know which one now. It sticks out, and yet, you can’t help but think that perhaps it’s perfect for the bizarre yet calming energy Matala gives off. It’s a message, you see: non-conformism rules this tiny beach town, uniqueness is king, and there are nothing but good vibes ahead of you. The motto of the village is plastered right on a seaside cliff, painted there decades ago when the town was a hippie paradise: Live for Today. You’re going to like it here, you think, as you approach the beach.
After walking down the hill from where you’ve parked your car just at the edge of the beach, take a look around. You’ll notice almost immediately discovers the cove of that dot the rock wall, and you can’t help but feel a sense of intrigue. Approach the worker selling tickets to these caves, and they’ll be happy to tell you: they are Roman catacombs, dotting the cliffs and intersecting with each other like a honey comb, and they are open to the public. Take some time, explore these caves. Marvel at the sound of the waves washing over the tombs of those closer to the ocean. Wonder what it would be like to be buried at a place as peaceful as this. Take some photos for posterity.
When you finish, exit the caves and take a moment to gaze into the water below. Note the incredible crystal blue color. Let yourself get excited: Matala beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and as you can see, the multitude of people already on the beach and enjoying the water agree with you. But take a moment to breathe it all in, the water, the caves, the painted cliffside. The energy, the mythos of it all, is infectious. You can’t help but picture Jason and his Argonauts trying to escape the bronze automaton Talos, stepping over the beach towards the Argo. The incredible invocation of mythology is palpable in the air. Let it infect you. Let the line between history and mythology be blurred. Then jump into the beautiful wine dark sea, and let the water wash over you. You will be cold, temporarily, but the clearness of the water combined with the alien world that shines just below the surface, of rocks and fish and ruins, will warm you with excitement. Explore it all. Soak it in. After all, you can’t find beaches like this at home. Swim out. Swim far. Climb some rocks, jump off of them. Feel alive.
A swim in the cool Aegean waters will refresh the soul as one allows the bright sky and hot sun to renew the body with with its life giving energy, but a day at the beach brings hunger. You’re in luck, though. Tavernas are scattered all over the beach, overhanging the dramatic land forms, which allows for all the senses to be fed. Music echoes out from porches overlooking the sea, and smells seep out from the verandas to lure you into their restaurant. Pick the one that enchants you the most, the one that smells the most delicious. Take your seat on one of the blue chairs at a blue table, overlooking the blue Aegean, and allow the wind to kiss your sun warmed face. The joy of eating a Greek salad, with feta cheese and copious tomatoes, drenched in olive oil, while listening to the lapping waves on the beach, 20 feet from your table, is a joy worth remembering for a lifetime. And of course, the varieties of seafood offered hit the spot: you can’t help but consider this a perfect day. Like most tavernas on Crete, don’t expect to eat without making friends with the waiter or the owner, who usually feels compelled to come by and say hello and ask about ones’ trip and origins. Enjoy a dessert of watermelon, at owner’s insistence, the perfect refreshing sweet for a refreshing day. Share a drink or three of Raki, the Cretan “grappa” drink made from grape skins. It’s strong, so one must be moderate if driving. Sitting and watching the lights and colors change in the sky as the meal progresses, is a memory not soon forgotten.
Explore the village corners and shops where every angle and corner is a painting or photograph waiting to be made. Bright colors and flowers evoke the age of “Flower Power”, and you learn that Matala was and still is a hippie town. Perhaps this is contrary to the way you live most of your life, but here and now you can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be a carefree flower child. Someone tells you that John Lennon once camped out in the catacombs you visited at the start of the day; consider how the history of this place is so alive, and how it has been a place of peace and beauty since the dawn of antiquity. Let it amaze you. Buy a colorful t-shirt with a fun hippie print on it, a memory of the time that you let yourself be completely free. Perhaps grab another drink at one of the colorful bars in the town square. Leather goods and trinkets hang everywhere and saturate the sights on a village walk. Let yourself be tempted to try the ‘fish spa,’ where visitors place their feet in tanks of small fish that nibble away at your dead skin. Maybe succumb to the temptation. After all, if there was a place to try new things, to live to your absolute freest, well….you’ve come to the right place.
By Katarina Kapetanakis