This daytrip tip is a great mix of history and relaxation. The ruins of the Minoan Palace of Festos (Phaistos) and the unique feel of former "hippie capital" Matala with its beach, caves, red beach, souvenir shops and sea front tavernas.
You can do this trip also with a tour operator.
By car I suggest the following route (this includes the village of Zaros with its lake, a beautiful scenic drive through the Amari Valley and the mountain village of Spili):
Part 1: Plakias - Agia Galini
Drive east out of Plakias via Lefkogeia and the Kourtaliotis Gorge towards Rethymno. Just after Koxare turn right towards Agia Galini enjoying the beautiful landscape. Agia Galini is a perfect spot for a morning coffee break.
A tourist hot spot on the south coast of Crete with a small harbour, where you will find the statue of Icarus. The legend of Icarus and his father Daedalus tells the story about the attempt of them to escape Crete, with wings made of wax. Icarus doesn't listen to his father when he tells them not to go too high, too close to the sun. The wax melts and Icarus falls into the sea.
Agia Galini - Festos (Phaistos)
The drive to Festos is not the nicest drive on Crete. You pass a lot greenhouses and the town of Tymbaki. You turn right off the main road when you see the sign for Festos (Phaistos). After a short drive you arrive at the ruins of this ancient Minoan Palace.
The first Minioan Palace of Festos was built around 2000BC on a hill with amazing views of the surroundings. After its destruction a new palace was built which was inhabited up to the 3rd century when it was destroyed by the neighbouring city of Gortys. The excavation started at the beginning of the 20th century. The famous Disc of Phaistos was recovered and moved to Heraklion.
The ruins are smaller than the ones in Knossos, but not built upon and with a little imagination you can see what an amazing place this must have been.
Opening hours: 8:30-20:00 (10th of April till the 31st of October)
Entrance fee: €8,00
Festos (Phaistos) - Matala
You continue on the road you were on already and follow the signs for Matala. If you are lucky you can park alongside the road close to the beach of Matala, otherwise there is a parking right behind the beach.
Matala is most famous for its caves. In the 60's these old Roman tombs were inhabited by hippies and the town, though touristy, still has a bit of that feel left. Matala is situated in a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay with several seaside tavernas and many souvenir shops in the small streets east of the beach. Every June there is the Matala Beach Festival, a 3-day free music festival. Besides the music the streets are divided into blocks where artist can paint there thoughts on an annual theme, something you can see and enjoy the rest for the rest of the year, slowly fading of course.
There is also an 800 meter trail to the Red Beach, a secluded beach south of Matala. You can find the trail when you walk up the main street, turn left at a square and follow the signs.
Entrance fee for the caves: €2,00
Matala - Spili via Zaros
You drive via Sivas and Petrokefali to the bigger town of Mires where you turn right at the main road and left in the village of Kapariana. From there just follow the road to the charming village of Zaros, situated on the southern slopes of Crete's highest mountain, Psiloritis (2456m). Here you can take a little d-tour to the Zaros (or Votomos) Lake where you can have a nice stroll around the artificial lake or have a peek in the Rouvas Gorge.
From Zaros follows a breath taking scenic drive towards and alongside Mount Psiloritis and via the Amari Valley to Spili (see map for the route). There is a beautiful little byzantine church between the villages of Kardaki and Gerakari.
Spili is a picturesque mountain village which is famous for the small lionhead water fountains you will find in the centre of town, surrounded by cafes and tavernas. There is steep walk up right behind these fountains for some amazing views over the town.
One of the souvenirs shop is famous for its wide selection of herbs, ointments, honey and chemical free soap with the smell of everything from chocolate to lemon.
From Spili it's only a 21km drive back to Plakias.
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