Matala In The Sixties.

Those of you who may have read my ‘Early Days’ stuff on this website will have come across my visit to Matala in 1966. Or you may have heard the stories from the days when this tiny bay became the hippie capital of Crete. Why it happened I don’t know, but the bay was truly beautiful. It has lovely fine sand and the cliff on the right as you look out westwards towards the sunset has a large number of roman burial places, effectively caves where you could stay if you had a sleeping bag.

When I went there it was truly amazing. To have been through many cretan villages seeing only cretans, I washed up in this lovely place to see dozens of hippies just lying in the sun and enjoying themselves. Their colorful clothes a stark contrast to the cretans. There were one or two stone houses and a kind of cave church, but it did not seem that any locals lived there at all.

There was a temporary taverna stroke bar that one of the cretans had set up on the beach and with some beers and some wine and a souvlaki barbecue he did very well. I remember that he also had an old Philips record player there that worked on batteries and he played LPs over and over. That was the Mermaid Cafe as everyone called it.

Today there are hotels and rent-rooms establishments as well as tavernas and in the summer it is chaos. In the winter though, almost nobody lives in Matala. There are no cars and it is almost like it used to be, but no hippies, of course. Oh, and you are not allowed to sleep in the caves anymore.

I never met anyone famous when I was there, but one of the people that spent some time in Matala was Joni Mitchell and she wrote her famous song Carey all about the place, the beach, and it always brings it all back to me.


16 thoughts on “Matala In The Sixties.

  1. I was in Matala in the winter of 1969. I’m a Canadian author, working on a book that includes a section on Matala back then. I’m a little fuzzy on the details…anybody who was there around that time, I’d love to hear from you. Did the Delfini have the Philips record player, or the Mermaid?

  2. hi
    Crispin here from Stroud in England. Jennie and i met on New Year’s Eve going into 67. We hitched to Crete
    via Venice in April and met a couple from L.A Greg and Judy. it was they who told us about Matala, while we were staying in the Youth Hotel.

    We had £50 each, the maximum you were allowed to take with you in those days, and planned to pick grapes or whatever and be away for 6 months!

    Greg was a song-writer friend of Jackson Browne and he had witten songs for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I remember other names, Zac Srtakey (American) and we became close friends with Lizzie and Adam also from L.A. Adam was wild and ended up jumping out of a bedroom window in Bombay sadly. Jackson Browne later wrote a song for him Song For Adam.

    We were personally at the gentler, more flowery end of hippiedom (Donovan,etc) as opposed to the more out and out hippies then. We hitched down through old Yugoslavia and arrived in Athens virtually on the first day of a curfew, and military junta overthrow. I’d washed up in a restaurant in London to save money and met a Greek guy who’d given me his address in Athens.Even though he was now in the Army , we somehow ended up staying with his lovely Greek family for about a week until boats from Piraeus resumed.

    Matala was a wonderful life changing experience. We found ourselves a sweet cave. I don’t remember cooking but we had an old parafin lamp , and rush matting on the
    floor.At night we’d sit aound with guitars singing and drinking wine.

    We heard about B-Ins and Love Ins , acid, the West coast music for the first time. The little café used to make cheap tomate-salades (onions and tomatoes.) with astragalia (nuts) cheap and potent Retsina..and there was an old
    record player..with records left by freaks and travellers.
    (Richie Havens, Blues Project, Donovan, etc)

    We lived in a cave from April fro about 3 months ,
    at Easter when all the villagers came down. We’d walk to Pidsidia (sic) and hitch to Mires for fresh-made amazing Yoghurt. There was a little white shack, a bit like one of the
    German guys pics. We didn’t have cameras so no pics sadly. We all talked about “where to next” blood in Thessaloniki (as already documented on this site)..was a favourite..although I was quite queazy when i did it…400 drachmas sounds about right.. but it might have been less.We then hitched up to Istanbul, via Xanthi and scary coastal roads with sleepy and lecherous lorry drivers on dodgy mountain bends and all met up again in the stoned haze of the Gulhane where we managed to get a cheap room. The Pudding Shop was the place to meet. So many memoires. We went back in 85 but it had changed so much. i hated the big plastic fronted bits on the restaurants.It felt a bit sad.
    all for now X love C+J.(still togther with kids and grand-kids)

  3. Two years ago i’ve finished my master thesis (University of Crete, department of sociology) for Matala and the hippie community from 1965 until 1975. Three months ago I’ ve started my Phd for the cultural change of the greek society back in the sixties and the relations with the ”Movement of the Movements”. I’ m looking for any kind of literature and information about my theme and especially for photos articles and documentaries that have to do with my theme. I could also provide my thesis (unfortunately it is written in Greek) to anyone that is able to read greek and also is willing to help me continue my research work.

    Sorry for my awful English writing.

    Greetings from Greece.

    • Hi
      I just read your request for stuff on matala. I don’t know if you have been told about ‘Scotty’ maybe one of the last hippies to live there. When he got really ill a few years back, the people of the village pooled together some money to pay for his care in a home and I’m glad to say last time I heard he had regain his ability to walk and his mind had returned to him.
      Sherron Johnson

  4. I was there in the sixties. We had an house there together with Roland Gruner and his family, I was with
    Dolf Hakkert. It was a wonderfull time, At Delfini’s on the beach, Vangelis,
    Xenophon, the grocery of Frans ……Knossos…
    The house is still standing there it is now a laundry.

    • Hi Dixie,
      Just curious when in the “sixties”? Delfinis was there in the fall of 68 when I was there. Still remember stumbling back to my cave at night while looking at the soft glo of the candles and lamps in each cave.
      Mel Bentley

  5. I spent about 7 months at Matala in 1980 with a friend of mine. We stayed in one of the caves that were up over the hill on the left side of the beach as you came down to the beach. We were into meditation and yoga at the time and spent the whole time wandering around the mountains barefoot and naked. It was the best time of my life. Dead silence, perfect water, beautiful cliffs just perfect. We would come down to the village every 4 or 5 days to get bread, rice, lentils etc and then go back up to the cave. Sometimes we would stay under the tree that is closest to the beach by the cliff caves to the right of the beach as you come down. We were both musicians and played guitar so, when down on the beach, there was usually a large gathering of travellers with us. Seeing as Ipods etc were non existent musicians were in high demand and we were well taken care of. Once my friend dived off one of the cliffs, about 40 meters. There were quite a few of us in the caves over the mountain, not by the village, and some nights there would be parties with flame throwers, jugglers, music etc. I must admit that it was like being in heaven. One night there was a problem, it seems some french hippies had got drunk and had a fight with the locals and someone had been knifed. We packed up and left on the midday bus as there were police everywhere. We were questioned but, as I had lived in Greece for years, I spoke like a Greek and we were allowed to leave. Others were not so lucky. After that we came up with a hairbrained pan to hitch hike to India via Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia and then stowaway on a ship to India (Iran had closed so there was no longer an overland route). We made it through Turkey but were stopped at the Syrian border because we didn’t have a visa (To be honest I hadn’t heard of a visa before), that was quite a trip but too much for this comment. I finally made it to India by flying to Pakistan and bussing it to India…. I went back to Matala about 4 years ago and the tourist industry has ruined it although the caves up the back of the mountain are still peacefull.

  6. does anyone know what happened to a black american guy named piper? i think he was part- time in copenhagen, maybe around the jazz scene and then often in greece. met him at the hostel in athens and he sent me to matala in 1966.
    aloha, susan

  7. I was in Matala June/Jule 1966. I had my own cave for about 2 weeks. A family with a son 6 years old moved in to “my cave” They had 5 chicken so they made omelet with potatos to me very often. I moved to a little place under a three nearer the villages. There I build me a little bamboohut where I stayed for a while. A man from the villages come often playing for me. He had an instrumet made from a goatbody/stomack. It was like the indtrument from Scotland.
    I had a very good stay in Matala. People I remember from Matala that where living in the caves or on the beach. Pip from Switzerland, Charly from Germany. A boy with a long beard from Holland, A nice boy from denmark. i dont remember names. Thomas Sheffield from San Fransisco. A Norwegian girl from Hønefoss. Thomas build a boat from different materials he found. He wanted to try comming out to the island, the one you can see from Matala. He never reach there. Yiannis kaffebar ? near the caves where the central place for us too meet. We where eating omelet, potaes and tomatosalat , drinking Retzina, The people in Matala where always very nice to us. Many boys from France and America where also living in the caves. I remember also a (ortodoksian priest)? and a doctor where living there. I have some fotoes from that time. I also learn too know many of the people in the village. Many of the “hippies” , we used to walk over to the red beach, playing in the waves. We where soo happy. Many of the people that where living in the caves went to Galazidion, working as ekstras in the movie “The day the fish came out” made of Cacoyannis, Music of theodorakis. I went back to Matala with some friends in 1989. I hope too come to Matala again sometimes. Love Lise Lotte from Oslo, Norway

  8. I’ve not commented here previously as the latest was 2012.
    However, as the World is now changed so dramatically and, hopefully, permanently with Covid19 it seems like a good time to try to gather as much information on the Hippie Daze as possible.
    The times we lived in, the second half of the 20thC, are already being regarded by many observers as the high point of civilisation – if that was the bright morning of the Enlightenment then now we are being engulfed by Darkness Visible as borders are made hard again and religion makes an unholy alliance with politics.
    I’ve copied this and the JM thread onto thumb drives and working to make hard copy as it is possible the Net as we currently know it will soon cease to be free & open.
    Enjoy the Interesting Times ahead

  9. I lived on Crete for three years from 2003 We would often go to Matala and go around to the next beach where you could cover yourself with mud made from the the cliff and have a complete body mud pack it was amazing. I was working in Almyrida as a cabaret singer and would tell the story of Joni Mitchell Writing Carey unfortunately At one of my shows a close personal friend of Joni who was in the audience informed me that Joni has never been to Crete or Matala But I carried on telling the story true or not.

    • Don’t take any notice – as you can see from the many reminiscences and personal experiences, she was there and indeed wrote Carey during an extended ‘goat dance’ – as she referred to him in California, ‘a red neck of a Grecian isle’.

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