Matala Beach: How to Live For Today

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…

Matala beach.

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.

A strange town centerpiece

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 coastline dotted with caves. Can you make them out?

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.

A proud seaside taverna

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.

A perfectly framed Aegean sea beckons


By Katarina Kapetanakis

The Land of the Wine Dark Sea

The blind poet Homer once sang of the mighty hero Odysseus, sailing across the Wine Dark Sea as he passed the craggy shores of  Crete. It is the land of Minos, king of an empire so great it once brought Athens to its knees.It is the place where Zeus was hidden from his ravenous and jealous father, Cronos, raised in a cave where soldiers clashed their weapons to cover his mighty cries, born into darkness in the depths of the cavern in Lasithi, where tourists flock today in droves to descend into this haunted place, a  cathedral of stone with spiral ceilings and thick cool atmosphere lead any visitor to understand how the legend was born in that place. The land of Crete lends itself to curious imaginings. Caves that look like entrances to the underworld abound in the island. A hike through the bucolic countryside will find ancient sites and olive hillsides covered with the ubiquitous olive tree, sometimes with trees 4000 years old. It is easy to become lost in the mythology of the very air.

The ancient songs of Homer ring through the Cretan countryside disguised as the blowing winds. Standing on stop of that plateau, you can picture the heroic king Orpheus playing his lyre, calling his wife Eurydice out of her crooked tree. In the gorge of Samaria, goats fearlessly climb impossible rock sides of surrounding mountains as one hikes through, still imagining that the wind carries the song of the king, looking for his lost love, hiking a trek very much like the one you’re walking on right now. Though his goes to a darker destination than the path you’re following. Looking to either side of this gorge, one gets a perspective of ones’ place in this incredible land. But perhaps you feel like searching for history within the island? It is a history that is intertwined with myth, so much so that the lines between reality and mythology is blurred. You can visit the labyrinth at Knossos, where the monstrous Minotaur was held, though today it is much less a prison for a beast and more a fascinating archaeological ruin. Walking through its once great halls evokes a feeling of wonder and mystery, and you cannot help but picture the palace and the labyrinth beneath in their respective heydays, glistening with vivid color and beautiful murals. The image of the bull is shown throughout the palace, and you can’t help but wonder as you step through the ruins…that perhaps reality isn’t as separate from fiction as one would like. Could there be more truth to the story of the half man, half bull? Could the stories of the heroic Theseus, wandering the dark corridors of the labyrinth, holding his breath as he listens for the monster, sword in hand and magic thread in the other, be true? In the land of gods and monsters, perhaps, just perhaps, it could be.

Even when we seek rest and sustenance with food and drink, the ancient spirit of Crete is alive and dominate over the modern land. Mythology has even woven itself into the very fabric of Cretan customs. The ancient rule of Philoxenia, the law of hospitality, wherein travelers and strangers are to be protected and entertained with respect, is still practiced today in every Cretan household. The belief was born from the myth that wandering gods, taking on human form, would pay surprise visits to the mortals in an effort to test their hospitality. Nowhere is philoxenia more prevalent than in local tavernas, where a visit will prove the Cretan adherence to the law of hospitality. No one leaves the table without first a toast of raki, a drink that is certain to both delight and fascinate, and a sampling of local fruit as dessert. The traveler is always made to feel like a friend-that is the Cretan way. After all, you never know if your next dinner guest is Zeus in disguise.

Crete is the land of heroes and marvels. Legends lend themselves to the gorgeous Cretan landscape and rugged terrain. Listen to the distant sounds of the bells placed around the necks of goats, and the cicadas hum, and one will instantly be transported to the time of Homer and his gods and heroes.


By Katarina Kapetanakis

The Allure of Crete: An Introduction

If you looked the island of Crete up in an encyclopedia, or perhaps, looked it up on Wikipedia, it would tell you all about the physical makeup of the place. It would tell you that Crete is the largest island in Greece’s archipelago, and the 88th largest in the world. It would tell you the exact number of miles the span of the island covers from east to west, (160, or 260 km). It would tell you how many mountain ranges Crete has, (three main ones),  or how many gorges, valleys, and rivers cover the island, (almost too many to count). It could tell you the population, the general climate, the flag, every numerical, geographical, and statistical fact you could possibly dream up.

But it couldn’t tell you about the sight of those rolling mountains, dominating the horizon. It wouldn’t be able to tell you how the sunlight crowns the island, outlining it in gold with every sunrise and sunset. It wouldn’t be able to tell you how the wind sings to you through the gorges, through the olive groves, of the songs of ancient gods and man that once walked the earth. It wouldn’t be able to fill you with all the beauty and grace that Crete bestows upon its people every day.

Crete possesses sprawling forests, with gorgeous running streams of crystal clear water; dramatic cliffs that tower over the blue sea, fertile plateaus nestled between mountain ranges, deserts and incredible beaches. Exploring Crete is a labor of love which rewards the explorer with wonders for all his senses. The plant life is a diverse ecosystem that can sustain the knowledgeable with nutrition and food for life. The terrain is both imposing and dramatic but a hike among the craggy cliffs and footpaths will lead you into a meditative state reserved for only the holiest of churches. A walk in the Cretan countryside will soothe even the most frazzled of nerves.

Have we enticed you yet? Can you feel the dappled sunlight on your face as you walk through the olive groves? Feel the gravel under your feet as you trek through the gorge? Can you feel the cold kiss of the waves as they splash against your skin as you wade in its depths? Have you fallen in love with Crete yet? You will.

Welcome to the blog of Wine Dark Sea, where you’ll learn to love all aspects of this gorgeous island just as we have.


By Katarina Kapetanakis