1/2: Destination Matala Beach
9 Am, still can’t get up on time, but finally, I feel somewhat like myself. Our car just arrived and I know, despite the fact being Crete for a third day, that our journey starts only now. After working quite a lot these days we were able to start the engine relatively early and move out. Having that in mind please note that we still left our hotel only at 1 PM as it is a work day, and we are working remotely, not having a vacation. That left us with around 8 hours before the sunset, from which we spent 2 on the road and one in THE archaeological place to go in Crete — Minoan Palace of Knossos. So the time we had in Matala Beach and its surroundings was fairly limited.
One good thing is that the weather in Crete is amazing, maybe even too hot for a northerner like myself, but it is not a tragedy to endure some heat in exchange for some tan, warmth and, of course, production of vitamin D of which it is impossible to get enough in the North without supplements.
Petrol stations in Crete
First things first, we filled our fuel tank in EKO petrol station, the price of 95 petrol was 1,670 € per liter in 2018 June. You can find BP and Schell petrol stations in the area as well. Don’t go out of the Heraklion without filling it as it might be hard to find a petrol station outside of towns.
Minoan Palace of Knossos
The adventure started with visiting a legendary the oldest town in Europe — Knossos. If you ever decide to do the same, here is some basic information for you:
Working hours: 08h00–20h00 from Apr 1 to Oct 31 / 08h00–17h00 from Nov 1 to Mar 31;
Prices: 15 € per pax or 16 € per pax combined ticket with the Heraklion Archeological Museum, valid for three days. You can get it if half a price if you are senior or student. It is free if you visit on Sunday, Nov 1 — Mar 31.
The beauty of the place for me was basically that you are in an area were Minoans used to live, it is considered to be the oldest ruins of a known city not only in Crete but in whole Europe. Personally, I’ve seen many Roman ruins, but never a Greek one and it definitely has its own flavor. Parts of Knossos were restored back in the Victorian era by Sir Arthur Evans and his crew, still, you cannot help yourself, but to wonder how the whole place felt and looked back in the times of Mythos.
Mythos of Crete
Crete is the birthplace of the main God in Greek mythology — Zeus. Despite that, different from the monotheistic mythos, the God in polytheistic mythology is not absolute. Based on current day standards, this resulted in rather rough childhood for Zeus. If it was not for his mother Rhea and Kourites, he would have been eaten by his abusive father Kronos.
Kourites were giant half-gods and were the first inhabitants of the island, no better place for folks like this to live than the tallest mountain of the Crete — Mount Psiloritis (Mount Ida). Kourites invented the agriculture and were taught the art of dance by Rhea herself.
Her husband Kronos was not only a bad father but a bit greedy and paranoid dude as well. The reason for his strange diet was that he was afraid that one day his child will dethrone him just as he did to his father Uranus. So he ate all of his children as soon as they were born, but Rhea being more reasonable and a loving parent hid their last child Zeus in a cave, which you can visit even today on the slopes of Mount Psiloritis, strangely, called the Cave of Zeus.
This is where Kourites truly came into the story as Rhea asked them to do some dancing and singing around the cave so Kronos wouldn’t hear Zeus crying inside of it. You know, back in the days, a few partying giant half-gods around a random cave doesn’t raise any suspicion.
Anyway, when Zeus dethroned his father (the cycle repeats), Kourites were rewarded and they became the priests in the new world. Sadly, his was wife Hera was an envious one and asked Kourites to kill Zeus child Epaphos, which he had with a mortal woman. The wrath of Zeus was REAL when he learned that and he killed Kourites with his thunderbolts, forgetting everything they did for him.
Mythos of Knossos
This part of mythos might be even more abstractly historically-true than the Kourites and Zeus one. The protagonist of this story is the son of nymph Europa and Zeus (the naughty God), the king of Knossos and Crete, Minos. Things were quite good for Minos until he got into trouble with Poseidon by not sacrificing him a white bull. Poseidon was truly creative and to revenge Minos, he made his wife Pasiphae to fall in love with the same bull.
Things got really naughty when Pasiphae told about her love to the master craftsman Daedalus, who made her a wooden cow costume covered with real cowhide. Oh, that technological advancement of Minoans. One way or another, the tricked worked as Pasiphae hidden in the wooden cow had sex with the white bull, which resulted in the birth half-man half-bull creature — Minotaur.
Minos did not kill the monster but instead asked Daedalus to build a labyrinth, where he imprisoned the Minotaur and gave him seven young men and women from Athens every year, which were sent in exchange as a ‘sorry’ for Minos’ son Androgeus death in the city.
In this mythos, the same Daedalus reveals himself as a tool rather as a real person when he helps Theseus, the son of Poseidon to penetrate the labyrinth and kill the Minotaur. Daedalus, being everywhere for everyone, really shows the neutrality of the technology and at the same time the tragedy of Minos when you try to fix your own mistakes by repeating them over and over again.
Daedalus story doesn’t end happily as well when he tried to escape Crete with his son Icarus with wings he built, the latter wanted to fly closer to the Sun which resulted in breaking-down of his pair of wings and falling into the sea, now known as the Icarian sea. This myth might be even an abstract representation of technologically advanced Minoans getting too arrogant and ambitious, which led to their own downfall.
From north to south
Though the roads around Heraklion City felt like a Minotaur’s Labyrinth as well. Besides that if you survive it, inland roads seem to be relatively in a good shape and fun to drive, the only problem is that you might get stuck behind a slow big car which maybe will help to enjoy a beautiful scenery of cultivated lands. My guess would be that the trees I see everywhere are olives and by everywhere I mean everywhere. The landscape in Crete is full of mountains and every hill seemed not to be left without a purpose, which is no surprise, without exploration of difficult terrain not much would be left for the agriculture.
If you liked Knossos or enjoy history and archeology on your way from Heraklion to Matala Beach, you can visit the second biggest Minoan ruins — Phaistos.
The town Matala itself seems like a small one road village full of restaurants and apartments, which totally makes sense because it is located in a gorge and opens up to a beautiful beach. You can also find a nice market, but my guess would be that you can buy the same stuff at Heraklion half a price. If you really want a souvenir from Matala you should probably buy some hand-made accessories from local nomad artists in Matala caves.
The beach itself is somewhat crowded with bars and restaurants, the price for an umbrella or sea sunbed is 2€ each, the same price we paid for parking next to it. Everything seems mediocre, except the views and it is more than worth it. As I mentioned before the place opens up to Libyan sea from a gorge which approx. 500 m wide. You are surrounded by two golden cliffs and what is even better those cliffs are full of caves. From what I read further down the cliff there are more secret caves which are inhabited by humans. Matala Beach used to be a famous hippy place.
Hike to Red Beach
With limited time we decided that getting to the nearby mixed nudist Red Beach is how we should spend what is left of the day. The hike is short, only 1.5 km, but it is way harder than it sounds. Personally, I have a mindset of a savage and I just don’t give fcuk, but the sun does its job and you need to climb over a mountain. For less experienced hikers it might be hard, but it is doable. Just take enough of water and it will be worth all of your struggle. There are a few nice places on the top of the cliff to observe both Matala Beach and Red Beach, so be sure to check it out. The view toward Matala beach is especially nice as behind the cliff you can see giant mountains hiding behind layers of clouds, from here you can really appreciate how amazing this oasis is. I love walking, so it was my favorite part of the day, the feeling of approaching this mysterious supposed-to-be nudist Beach added to this as well.
With that in mind I must say it took quite a while to notice any nudists, the beach is definitely mixed and at the center of it, where you enter it after your short hike, looks like a normal beach. If you want to drop-off your clothes between the like-minded you should go to the edges of Red Beach. You’ll be also be rewarded with a better view of which I couldn’t take photos for obvious reasons. Beach has a single bar, but it is relatively expensive, from what I heard Mojitos are really good here and the price is very reasonable. Since I’m are not a nudist and didn’t feel like turning into one after observing a beautiful beach and an amazing cliff, we were fast to turn back. One last thing about the pace, as a proof that the hike is way more manageable than what you see in comments I present you a bribe who did it with a wedding dress. If it ever gets hard climbing a mountain, just remember her. Things you do for love.
Things I do for love is usually climbing since I’m really in love with mountains (I live in a very flat region). A good place to express my love was to climb a bit in-between Matala caves, not to be mistaken with Matala caves on the other side of the gorge where you can find artists selling stuff next to pleeenty of bars and restaurants, the caves seems to be abandoned, but it definitely was inhabited back in the less touristy days. The caves have sculpted of the rock rooms and even beds, it is like a super mini Petra. I guess people who are more into nature are fast to remember our prehistoric ways of living.
You enter the area for 2€ and is more than worth it, just be sure to be careful while climbing, you can not only to hurt your self but to drop a stone and injure someone below you. For those less fit, there is plenty to explore on the lower levels, but the crown jewel is on the top from where you can observe the whole gorge and Matala with its beach.
Don’t get me wrong, these beaches are amazing, but instead of spending our time enjoying the sun we decided to spend it in a car and to see Kommos Minoan Antiquities with Kommos Beach nearby. The place maybe is not as amazing, but on your way there you can enjoy an amazing panorama of mountains. Kommos beach is a way better place for people who like less crowded places as well.
Kommos Minoan Antiquities is either closed for public or we came too late as it was locked and we could only observe it through a fence.
The trip back to Heraklion was chaotic, and by chaotic I mean it, rules don’t feel to apply here as everyone is crossing even double lines. Though it was fun and setting sun provided a lot of beautiful views.
After we got back to our hotel, we went to chill near the pool with a beer. Very few things are better than washing your day’s sweat, cold beer, and a good company, though, after reading and hearing a lot about Crete being a really good place to the party we were eager to go out of the hotel and look for some beach party fun.
The closest beach to out hotel was Heaven Beach with some nice cozy cafés in it. It was Friday and we thought that we are definitely going to find a party down here. We had visited the place twice before and we thought it was empty due to being just a wrong day to look for a party. But when we saw that there was not a lot of people on Friday we were totally lost. Though, the place is good for a meal, chill and talk with your friends without a major disturbance. The beach is nice as well as it offers a picturesque view of the coast to the west, where the mountains reach it.
This experience made us research a bit more and after some more in-depth we understood that we are on the wrong side of Heraklion. It seems like unless you live in one of those Ammoudara’s fancy hotels, this is not the place famous for its parties in Crete. If you want those good time beach parties you should go to Hersonissos, Malia or even Chania. Heraklion itself is a good place for city parties, though, it is more filled with local people and their most popular club is Greek only.
Anyway, the lesson of the day is to drink cappuccino frappe instead of whatever coffee you prefer.
To be continued on next Thursday, 07.05
This is special post from my adventures. Travel Thursday is to return this Thursday and continue for two weeks until I’ll have to leave connection zone for at least one week.
Author: Mantas Ališauskas
Photography: Mantas Ališauskas
Design: Mantas Ališauskas