It's famous for the man-made caves carved into the rock face on the North side of the surrounding bay. They were carved out during Neolithic times and have been mainly used as tombs over the centuries, although they were used by a hippie community during the 1960s and 70s. Why anyone would ever want to spend one night far less the entire Summer in one of these caves is beyond me. You only have to look inside them and see the little shelves the bodies were obviously placed in to rule out any idea of them being homey.
It's other claim to fame is as the landing point on Crete of Zeus and Europa. The story goes that when Zeus spotted Europa he hatched a plan to have his way with her. Taking the form of a white bull, he mingled in with her father's herds and when she and her friends were out gathering flowers, Europa saw the bull and, so taken with its beauty, she climbed onto its back. Needless to say, Zeus took that opportunity to leg it and run into the sea with her. He then swam to the island of Crete with Europa on his back, landing on the beach at Matala where he transformed into an Eagle and carried off to Gortys for a bit of fun.
Anyway back to present day Matala. What was once a pleasant little fishing village has gradually been turned into a tourist resort, full of restaurants and tavernas. That's not to say that it's not a nice place but it's certainly busier even than when we were first here some years ago. If you like beaches and the casual life of lazy tavernas, then it's definitely worth a visit. The caves are interesting too and, if you're adventurous enough, then you can climb up to the higher ones.
Next time we go to Crete though, we'll probably give Gortys and Matala a miss and visit Phaestos and then neighbouring Kalamaki beach instead as it's supposedly less commercialized than Matala.