Crete: Back to the Hippy Days at Matala Beach Festival

Historic caves and beach at Matala Beach in Crete. Katerina Mihailidis photos.
Historic caves and beach at Matala Beach in Crete. Katerina Mihailidis photos.

Matala Beach Festival in Crete– The music, the sun, the colors await you!

By Katerina Mihailidis

There was a shawl wrapped around her, covering her bathing suit. Her olive-skin legs were bare and warm in the sun.

VW Bus in Crete.

Girls and women walked around in light clothes, and most shoulders were exposed, glowing radiant pink or red -depending on whether they remembered to apply sunscreen in the morning.

A few men wore shirts. Most were merely in their swimming trunks that dripped the ocean’s saltwater along the painted streets of the little festive town.

It was the annual beach festival of Matala, in Crete, Greece, commencing summer in late June of 2016.  It takes place every June on this beautiful stretch of caves and beach on Crete’s southern coast.

Hippies Reunion

The first Matala Beach Festival was called “Hippies Reunion” and was created in 2011 by a German ex-hippie who lived in Matala during the 1960s, according to Crete Blog, Living in Crete.

The festival commemorates the hippies of the ’60s who lived in Matala and the neighboring towns, in the southern coasts of Crete. Hippies inhabited the village’s caves and were forcefully driven out and away from the little fishing town of Matala by the church and the military junta in the ’60s. Visit the Matala Beach Festival site from 2016, in Greek.

Sidewalk paintings in Matala.
Sidewalk paintings in Matala.

Before the hippie inhabitation, the caves were used as tombs for the Romans in the first and second centuries.

Many know of Crete’s rich and important history, but only a few know of the festival. Despite the festival’s seeming international unpopularity, the town floods with visitors for those three days.

Locals, islanders, individuals from the rest of Greece, and tourists come to enjoy the music, the food, and the beautiful beaches of Matala.

Tomorrow Never Comes

The slogan of the festival tries to revive the traditional and fundamental spirit of the hippies and the life they led. “Today is Life. Tomorrow Never Comes.” It’s Matala’s version of “Hakuna Matata,” of living with no worries “for the rest of your days,” (or for at least the duration of the festival).

It was hot that weekend, as it is hot every year at the end of June in southern Crete. Summer dresses, flowered halos, and colorful bathing suits contrasted the blue of the sea.

During the day individuals can walk the streets and shop from the countless souvenir and tourist stands. Instruments, knickknacks, and clothing can be bought, all of which will live in your heart and your home forever, in memory of the festival and the sun.

The village of Matala offers a variety of activities for children as well, including dance workshops, painting workshops and live theatrical plays that entertain and please little ones and their families. Getting henna tattoos, face painting, street painting are some other activities one can do.

A ‘Walk Around’ Kind of Festival

The Matala Beach Festival is an open, walk-around kind of festival that surrounds the little taverns of the center of the village where one can savor traditional Greek dishes, such as gyros or calamari, by the ocean’s shore or in the shade.

“It’s a beautiful environment and an experience that’s quite different,” said Lais-Ioanna Margioris, 18, in her native language (Greek).

Tree Sculpture at the Entrance of Matala Village in 2016 Crete, Greece.
Tree Sculpture at the Entrance of Matala Village in 2016.

Margioris grew up on the island and first went to the festival two and half years ago, in the summer of 2015, she said. She participated in many of the activities there with her friend.

“We listened to good music, swam in the sea… my friend got a henna tattoo and I got a hair wrap, that I still have!” Margioris said in Greek. Margioris has been to the village five times and to the festival probably three. She said she recommends the visit.

Like in a dream, the city is a utopic getaway where cliff diving into the crystal-blue refreshing waters of the Mediterranean Sea is also a natural activity provided by the formation of the land itself.

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The daring jump. Thrilling screams and then loud splashes sound as vacationing teenagers hit the waters.

In the mornings, a stage is being prepared for the musicians and artists who will entertain the festival-goers at night, by performing live and singing from 5 pm until maybe 2 am or even 3 am. Some well-known singers that have performed live on stage in the past are Locomondo, Filippos Pliatsikas, Onirama, Eleni Vitali, Nikos Ziogalas, The Mighty Mezz and many more.

Pure Raw Beauty

Natural scenery and the pure raw beauty of the coast surround the stage. The famous and historical picturesque caves of Matala stand bright and brooding to the left.

The sun hits the face of the rock and the rock by turn shines a golden brown above the blue waters. The sand emerges from beneath the stage and rolls itself in and out of the water, stretched across the entirety of the bay.

Sidewalk painting at Matala.
Sidewalk painting at Matala.

Many groups of singers, some well-known, others wanting-to-be, commandeer the stage on the beach while the audience swims, sits on towels, sunbathes or lies back on the sand and looks at the starry sky when night falls and the air is warm and welcoming for all.

Areti Kokkinomagoula, 20, who grew up on the island of Crete, has been to the festival twice. The first time she spent all three festive nights in the village. She said that one of her favorite memories was from one of those nights, in the summer of 2015.

Pink Floyd Songs

It was a starry night and the band on the stage was only playing Pink Floyd songs, she recounted.

“My friend lifted me onto his shoulders… I could see all the people -and trust me there were a lot of them- from up high,” Kokkinomagoula said in Greek, her native language. “I could see the sea that was lit by the lights of the stage and I was listening to my favorite music,” she added.

Above the bay, bars are open at night where the music, the lights, and the cocktails will be etched in the visitor’s mind for a good while after their visit.

Sleeping on the Beach

Firework display at the end of the first night of the festival, June 2016
Firework display at the end of the first night of the festival, June 2016

When the party slowly dies down in the wee hours of the morning, visitors can camp out by the beach in tents that they have brought themselves, with family or friends, to enjoy the more authentic ways of living as a nomadic hippie.

For those who prefer a quieter setting, there are affordable little hotels and suites outside of the village center, only a five-minute walk away, where they can retreat earlier during the night or any time they wish.

Despite the positivity that surrounds the theme and the essence of the festival, its central ideas are a little lost nowadays and instead of being reproduced they’re ridiculed, Kokkinomagoula said.

“[The festival] has now become quite commercial,” Kokkinomagoula said. “Most of the time people have nothing to do with the culture hidden behind all of it, nor do they understand it. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to go there if you are aware of the situation,” she added.

The festival offers free admission and welcomes individuals who want to understand the culture behind the life of the ’60’s hippies.

The music, the sun, the colors, and Matala awaits you in Crete, Greece.

Getting There:

Trip Advisor has good information on different ways to get from Athens to Crete, including ferries and flights.

When you’re in Crete, getting around is easy with your own car.  Rental Center Crete – Car hire

Hotels in Matala from Trivago

Eurail Passes: What to Know about Buying a Europe Train Pass

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