The Messara plane offers olive groves, beautiful beaches, archeology, and a life off the beaten track. The central south something for explorers and individualists who want to experience mountain and coastal landscapes.
The villages of fertile Messara plain harmoniously integrate into the landscape of olive & fruit tree groves. They perfectly combine the traditional Cretan way of life, the real hospitality, and the warm heart of the residents with holidays on the beach and excursions to many nearby attractions.
The Messara plane is located on the south side of the Heraklion prefecture, in an elongated area 50 km long and no more than 7 km wide. To the south, the valley is protected by the wild Asterousia Mountains, while its west side is bordered by a wide beach with sandy beaches. The villages are mostly traditional as the people are still engaged in agriculture. However, as you get closer to the sea (to the west), villages and towns will be more touristically developed. The largest villages of Messara are Mires in the middle of the plain and Tympaki near the sea.
Be sure to visit the local street markets in Tympaki or Mires!
There are far more Cretans than tourists on the market, and so you can experience the traditional Cretan flair with loud market joiners and many colorful stands that offer everything the rural population (and holidaymakers) may need.
Friday / Tympaki & Saturday / Mires
Kamilari - Sivas - Pitsidia - Matala - Kalamaki - Kokkinos Pyrgos - Vori
These villages are the most popular in Messara, which is probably due to the pleasant mix of authentic Cretan village life and individual tourism with holiday homes and taverns. Here, as everywhere in the south of Crete, Greek hospitality is lived and you have the feeling of belonging.
Kamilari is a charming village with traditional stone houses and many gardens with colorful flowers, which is located on a hill surrounding olive groves and offers a breathtaking sea view. Due to its location on a hill, Kamilari has both sea and mountain views and from some places, you can see the whole Messara from the sandy beaches, to the Psiloritis and up to the Asterousia mountains.
Kamilari is a beautiful place, so it is not surprising that you will find a whole range of holiday rentals, all well as residents from foreigners, but that has not compromised the Cretan charm of the village, which is one of the most beautiful in Crete. Perhaps Kamilari is so beautiful because of its foreigners, who have renovated many of the old, crumbling houses …
I like to stroll through the narrow streets, look into the small shops that offer local or at least Greek handicrafts, relax with a Freddo in a kafenion and enjoy Cretan village life. In the evening, many visitors come to Kamilari to eat in the beautifully situated taverns. In addition to excellent local dishes, there is also very good pizza and vegetarian food.
Sivas is a small picturesque village and its few inhabitants are engaged in agriculture. Life revolves around the square with cafes and taverns where you can enjoy the company of locals and are always welcome.
Here you can enjoy Greek food in the evening in the village square and listen to the mandolin players live. Practical for the parents is the square in front of the church and the small playground behind the taverns.
Sivas also attracts a lot of visitors as it is on the way back or on the way back from an excursion to the Odigitria Monastery and the bays of Agiofarago, Marzalos, and Vathi. Hence, from the late afternoon onwards, the tavernas are full of day-trippers, vacationers, and locals sharing tips about the region.
But there is at least one other good reason to visit Sivas. If you come to Sivas, be sure to visit the Kostas Kafenion, which is hidden behind a tree just before the market square. It is one of the most extraordinary kafenions in Crete and with it, Kostas brews one of the best coffees in the region.
When you enter Kosta’s kafenion, you have the feeling of being introduced to a holy place and the deeper secrets of faith.
This Kafenion is a real museum, the walls are completely religious pictures, wood prints that look like real copies of religious pictures, and works of Domenikos Theotokopoulos and Fayum paintings decorate walls.
Kostas also has loads of books and special little travel guides about Crete that he likes to give his guests to read.
PITSIDIA is one of the oldest villages of the Messara plain, here you will find the typical narrow streets, stone houses, and a small market square surrounded by kafenions. Twice a week, live bands and dance groups are performing in the center place and cast a spell over locals and tourists. An incomparable atmosphere that you should not miss.
Until today Pitsidia has been untouched by mass tourism and is especially popular with independent travelers. Many old houses are used as holiday rentals, so in summer the number of visitors exceeds that of the locals, but if you come to Pitsidia in spring or autumn, you will experience an idyllic, quiet village, where you can relax wonderfully.
On the main road and the central square you will find many taverns, but I prefer more for the hidden places and Pitsidia hosts some of my favorite taverns!
The Green Kukunari opens up a new kind of gastronomy in our region where, in addition to breakfast & lunch, you can join various workshops around healthy, nutritional, vegan cooking.
In the evening, good wines are offered with small appetizers. You can buy local products in the organic shop and the second floor hosts a small boutique with an art gallery.
Matala - where tomorrow never comes
For many, Matala is THE place and I am a fan of Matala myself, although it has changed a lot over the years and in my opinion, not for the better … but it’s still fun to visit the village and drive yourself to let!
In addition to the famous caves, Matala has a beautiful beach and a lively mix of cafes, bars, and various taverns. Although Matala has become a popular tourist destination, it has retained the charm and character of the small fishing village, and the relaxed lifestyle of the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s lives on.
In the 60s and 70s, Matala was the most famous hippie place in Greece and later attracted world-famous musicians like Joni Mitchell, who immortalized Matala and the Mermaid Cafe in the 1971 song “Carey”. The small fishing village has grown a lot in recent years and has adapted to the new tourists, but the atmosphere of that time is still palpable.
Matala also has a beautiful sandy beach, 300m long, with fine gravel and crystal clear deep water. But be careful, there are rocks underwater, which can be dangerous on wavey days. The right part of the beach is lined with tamarisk trees and leads to impressive rock formations of sandstone cliffs and their famous caves, from the top of which some people dive into the deep water. The beach is very well organized with umbrellas, toilets, showers, lifeguards, first aids, beach volley courts, snack bars, water sports, excursion boats, a camping site, etc.
In just a few years the MAD IRIE has developed to the best place in Matala – Michelle and David are amazing hosts, cooks and creators in many ways. If you want to have a great time and meet new people, this is the place. Some evening with live music, some with karaoke and with surprise, but always with vegetarian & vegan food, vegetable & fruit smoothies & juice, creative jewellery , hair braiding, locks & more in a caribbean vibes…
Kalamaki is a small coastal village with a beautiful sandy beach, which is well organized with umbrellas, sun loungers, taverns, cafés and small playgrounds.
The beach is very popular with families with young children who quickly make friends here.
Enjoy the evening in one of the many beach taverns with sea views. The sunset over the uninhabited Paximadia Islands is spectacular.
My absolute highlight in Kalamaki is to walks on the beach to the east, to Komos Beach – with the Karibu Bar hidden in the dunes and at the end of the beach, you will find the Bunga Bunga Beach Taverna.
With its gently sloping sandy beach, Kokkinos Pyrgos offers one of the most popular sections of Messara Bay, which attracts greeks in particular. On the promenade, you will find fish taverns, cafés, and bars where you can sit and enjoy the goings-on from morning until night.
I prefer for relaxing time the quieter place, on the other side of the harbor, where there is only one tavern with some umbrellas. Great sunset!
In the evenings the promenade is full of people, who are enjoying the lovely summer breeze of the nights while eating in one of the excellent taverns or having a drink at the beach club Makao.
Kokkinos Pyros has grown from a relatively unknown spot to a holiday village in the last few years, or rather, it’s on the way there. Many holiday homes have been built and new cafes and taverns have opened on the beach promenade. As before, 90% of the guests here are Greek, which makes the atmosphere particularly nice for me.
The fishing boats are moored in the small port of Kokkinos Pyrgos and from here Captain Nikos also starts his boat trips to the Paximadia Islands, to Vathi or Prasso Nissi. He also offers diving courses and diving tours.
A walk through this charming village shows the old buildings and Venetian houses, decorated with geraniums and bougainvilleas. Vori reflects the relaxed, quiet, and authentic Cretan lifestyle like no other village of the Messara.
A visit to DESPINA Kanenion at the square is highly recommended, because of the delicious food, always interesting discussions and much information. Despina and her family speak fluent German and are happy to help! MANOLIS KAFENION has the typical Cretan atmosphere, you can quickly catch up with him and the guests. Here is Crete exactly as you would imagine!
The Ethnological Museum is located in an old farmhouse in the center of the village and hosts ancient objects from everyday life, including simple household items, musical instruments, tools, carpets, and weapons.