Matala Beach: A Free Music Festival
If there is one international music festival you need in your diary this year, it's Matala Beach on 16-18th June 2017. Think Coachella, but more immersive, less expensive and a beautiful white sandy beach with which to sip cocktails from whilst listening to music. Perfect. Matala is a small village on the southern coast of Crete, 75 km south-west of the main port Heraklion. With flights to and from Athens, Crete is easily accessible with daily ferries from Piraeus. It is estimated that roughly 60,000 people visit the festival each year, and so it remains one of the few unspoilt, totally free international music festivals the world has to offer.
In the 1960s and 70s Matala was a pinned destination for intrepid travelers on route along the 'Hippie Trail' that stretched from Europe to Asia and included destinations such as Amsterdam, Turkey, Afghanistan and Kathmandu.
During that time people came to live in the natural caves that were dotted around Matala and soon a cultural hub was born. If you passed by Matala in the 60s and 70s you may even have met the likes of Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan who all lived in the commune for some time. This hippie history is even immortalized by Joni and her 1971 song 'Carey' which she wrote about a brief encounter with a guy called Carey Raditz. As an introduction to the song at her performance in the Troubadour "oh, he’s a great character. He’s got sort of a flaming red personality, and flaming red hair and a flaming red appetite for red wine and he fancied himself to be a gourmet cook, you know, if he could be a gourmet cook in a cave in Matala." For more stories of Matala at this time head to www.matala.nl/stories.html.
A few years later and the police would come to kick out everyone from living in the caves. By this point, things had gone a bit crazier than the average crazy and the locals were starting to feel unhappy with the constant parties and open nudity.
What to expect
Today, at Matala you can visit for the sea-front caves for a 2€ (2USD) fee, unless you're good at climbing and can reach the caves outside of the public perimeter. Yes, there is still open nudity but it is now restricted to the nudist 'Red Beach' a 40minute mountain clamber to the west. The caves themselves were created by the Minoans hundreds of years ago and at the end of the stone age they were used as leper caves. When the Romans came to settle in Matala, the caves found a new function as burial grounds which were sealed up. It wasn't until the 1950s when people began to restore and dig out new caves to live in. Each cave is interconnected by narrow, cliff edge pathways and steps, some are not for the faint hearted. Today you can still clearly see the bed spaces and decorations which were created by passers by through the years.
The festival itself starts heating up late afternoon through the night as the sun is too strong during the day. The music varies between rock covers, 1960s pop to traditional Greek music. We'll be honest, the music itself might not be mindblowing, mainly Greek cover bands, but the people and the community are. Matala Festival is still known as a stop off point, and although the days oh the hippie trail may be over many curious creatures still pass through Matala each year. Expect to meet people that challenge your own perceptions, people that have been traveling constantly for 10+ years, buskers working hard for their daily bread (or in many cases, their daily beer), market stalls selling their wares picked up from India and people from all across the world.
If you arrive a week before the festival you can help the locals and fellow eager-attendees paint the streets of Matala, a sort of pre-ritual before the festival begins. You can find out more about the street painting activities by visiting their Facebook page, links at the bottom of this article.
There are plenty of local, hearty restaurants and food stalls open during the festival, and there is a supermarket that has basic ingredients if you are on a tight budget. For the best view for a drink be sure to visit Marinero Bar and check out their extensive cocktail list. You can also pay homage to the history of Matala by raising a glass at the Mermaid Cafe which featured in Joni Mitchell's song:
"Come on down to the Mermaid Cafe
And I will buy you a bottle of wine
And we'll laugh and toast to nothing and
Smash our empty glasses down."
Where to stay
For somewhere to stay there are a few options, firstly for the true Matala experience you could co-occupy a cave. I met an 18 year old guy there who had stopped by Matala to spend a few weeks living in the cave that his aunt called home during the early 1970s. Another free option would be to buy a tent and sleep on the beach, you need to get there a few days early to be sure that you have a good spot. There is also a campsite just back from the beach that offers cheaper spots. If you need a few more home luxuries then you'll need to book in advance one of the three hotels/hostels.
Whether you're a hippy, traveler, music lover or explorer Matala Beach Music Festival, is a special place with special people and we are sure that you will have an incredible time. If you are going this year, be sure to share this blog and let us know what your plans are. Finding information on Matala Beach Festival can be a little difficult so we recommend keeping updated via their Facebook page.
See you on the beach!
Matala Beach Facebook Page
Streetpainting Facebook Page