Kantara Castle is the third of the great mountain fortresses built originally by the Byzantines along the Kyrenia Mountains, the others being St Hilarion and Buffavento. Kantara Castle is worth visiting not only for its Gothic architecture and atmosphere, but also for its views – from here, you can see both coasts of the Karpaz Peninsula stretching off to the east, and on a clear day the mountains of mainland Turkey. The first mention of Kantara Castle is in 1191 AD when, legend has it, Richard the Lionheart captured Isaac Komnenos here. Lusignan prince John, brother of King Peter I, is said to have hidden out here from the invading Genoese in 1373. Later, his brother James I of Cyprus refortified the castle – the origin of much of the stonework that remains today. The nearby village of Kantara is a hill station which has seen better times.
The easiest route to the castle is along the north coast road from Girne to the Karpaz. At Kaplica, a fine, wide new road climbs up from the sea, and within minutes you’ve covered the 6km to the Karpaz village intersection. From here, there’s a clearly signposted and good-quality tarmac road which takes you past a large picnic ground to the castle car park, some 4km from the village. You can also approach from Gazimağusa, turning off the east coast road just before Boğaz and following a vertiginous mountain road via Yarkoy and Turnalar. After around half an hour of white-knuckle driving (there are no safety barriers) you reach Kantara village.
Access to the castle (750m) is up well-graded paths and steps, with a few safety barriers (though higher up the castle, barriers are not always present, so keep an eye on children). Once you’re through the main gate, an inner entrance leads between the massive northeast and southeast towers to a path that leads westwards. A succession of vaulted rooms with arrow slits, probably the barracks, is followed by a latrine. Beyond here are several more chambers and ruined towers. At the southwest corner of the castle are more chambers and latrines, and a hidden gate. At the top of the castle is a beacon tower which could send warning of attack west to Buffavento, which in turn lit beacons to warn St Hilarion.