ZICE Monastery & Fortress
This is the very definition of a Green Slovenian secret place! It's in an area you have never heard of, but just 90 mins from the Lodge.. It's just off the motorway, but there are no signs and you would never find it without some serious help. It's name has just 4 lettters, but you will never pronounce it properly in a million years.. It is a sensationally beautiful monastery with fairy tale hobbit towers all protected by a massive castle wall, but it is translated here and described locally in English as "Zice Charterhouse".. what on Earth is a charterhouse!
It is as if there is some ancient monastic curse that defies you from even knowing about.. let alone finding one of the wonders of Green Slovenia.. and you really have almost zero chance of knowing about this place.. we had lived here for 7 years before we found it by chance.. (maybe we broke a mirror before and got bad luck)..
But the Zice Monastery Fortress.. aka Zice Charterhouse went instantly into our Slovenian top ten as soon as we walked through the gates and uttered our second "wow" of many to come in this special day. (We should tell you that our Slovenian top ten actually has 30 secret places in it.. Green Slovenia is just so packed with amazing places it is impossible to have just 10 in your top ten)!!
So the only reason we found this wonder of the medieval world was by spotting a castle-like symbol on a paper map that we were studying for our next day's trip to the lovely Rogla mountain.. we love Slovenian castles, they are all so completely different to the next one..
After a lot of clicking around, we finally got a photo of Zice showing a big castle wall with fantastic towers that looked incredible and so we decided to visit this place after knowing about it for just one day in the 10 years we have been exploring Green Slovenia.. nuts but true and total justification for us taking the time and energy to find all these Secret Places to Visit and bring them to your attention!
So how do I get to this hidden Monastery Fortress?
If you think about it, Monks didn't really want to be bothered by anyone at all, so they found a stunningly beautiful, secluded spot away from it all at the end of a secret valley.. if you were lucky enough to have such a magical place in your country, there would be one or two big brown signs in the most spoken language in the world to show you the way.. not here mate, (yet.. and we are not holding our breathe), so read on!
The motorway junction to turn off at is Slovenske Konjice, which we prefer to call Horseville in the most spoken language in the world, but anyway, it is the direction Ljub to Maribor next one AFTER Celje. ZICE village is actually on the opposite side of the motorway from Horseville and the ZICE Monastery is not in ZICE, it is outside and actually on the same side of the motorway as Horseville.. not on the Zice side!!
So the best thing to do is exit at Slovenske Konjice and drive towards that pretty town, TURN at the roundabout just before Slovenske Konjice and head for Zice going through Konjiska Vas, (Horse village).. this will then bring you UNDER the motorway to the Zice village side, then just keep going, don't go into Zice, go right and you will actually go UNDER the motorway again along a narrow road with an absolutely beautiful big church with a slate roof.. this is St John's and is connected to the monastery dynasty, so you are on the right track.. keep going till you see a big car park on your right and you will get your first view of the monastery castle towers! Simples!!
(You could try putting Zice into navigation, but then just remember to leave Zice village to get out to the monastery)..
The car park is in a bizarre position, you have to walk along a narrow road with no pavement to get from it to the entrance.. actually there is another smaller car park just up that road a bit opposite a big house that was actually the first pub in Slovenia and was used by the monastery to accomodate guests.
There is a really good shop in this ancient INN and a cafe on a wooden terrace with great views to the fortress, but that is for later.. walk just past here to a little wooden stall where you buy your tickets and we recommend you MUST take headphones.. the audio is fantastic and will be the teacher for your ears as your eyes will be very busy being as big as saucers soaking up the amazing sights inside!
What on earth is a Charterhouse?
It's a monastery for Carthusian monks ok! This will not be so important for 99% of visitors, interesting to know of course and to respect that most of the monks who lived here took a vow of silence and lived in little stone cells most of the time contemplating.. other monks worked in the fields and made wine.
So this order of mainly French monks came here in the second half of the 1100's and built a monastery that was visited by crusading knights and other notables and later in history had to be protected from Turkish invaders with this huge castle wall..
All of this is incredibly lucky for us nowadays..
Why would I make a pilgrimage here when I could go to a lake with an island and a church in the middle or a big cave with a train?
You should go to those places as well, of course, in the blissful knowledge that there is no other country in Europe where you can visit such a range of amazing different natural wonders, all in such a small area..
But this fairy tale monastery is over 850 years old and mostly still standing.. it is a monastery protected by a massive castle wall with hobbit like roofs on the stone buildings inside and towers you might expect to see in a Harry Potter film, but are real as golden eggs.
To put this all into perspective.. this is a wonder of the European world built about the same time as Ankor Wat was being constructed on the other side of the world.. yes, it is that amazing in our opinion.. we would put it into the same breathe as Ankor Wat, but on a much, much smaller scale, of course and you don't need to come here on a tuk tuk! (that might be an idea for the future though and there is so much scope to E Bike here as well)!
The audio guide will escort you around in your own language (or at least English) in a matter of an hour and a bit.. You will walk through those huge castle gates and see the sparsely furnished main building to learn just about enough of what is required to understand particular order of monks and religious life here.
The narration is superb, he even does a grand job trying to make sense and explain the nonsense of this Zice name coming from a rabbit, but this is just indicative of when Slovenians try to translate literally into English and totally confuse everybody else in the world!!
There is a cellar, of course, to add to any suspicions you might have had about what monks actually got up to and it is also interesting to know that this area is right at the start of another Slovenian wine region, stretching up to Maribor.. the wine here has an Austrian feel to it and the cellar has the same local unique cuvee called "horse wine" from the local Slovenske Konjice vineyard.. (there is a very nice restaurant in the middle of the Zlati Gric vineyard by the way, about 10 mins from here and you can find more about it in the Horseville section of the Rogla mini Region article).
We were delighted to watch a pottery display done by a local professor who has a little shop with items to buy.. he made a little cup with a handle to show us how it was done and we realised this was the first time in our lives that we had actually watched this process in real life.. it added to the magic and we were so grateful that this lovely man is here to entertain and educate visitors.. please show him your support and thanks by buying some of his wares and encouraging this shy little country to put more local products and people in the shop window to enhance our visitor experience.
The huge church is being renovated and wow, what a place this will be when it is done! You will most certainly utter some more wows when you walk just past this church and first see the hidden secrets in the open green middle bit of this medieval citadel, dotted with little magical towers and protected like a castle all around.
It wouldn't be surprising at all if a dragon flew down from the sky and landed on one of the huge slate cone towers!
The main hobbit towers draw you in like magnets and as you climb up the green hill a bit towards them you can make out some of the stone foundations in the grass of the cells where the silent brothers lived.
The view from the top of this hill down to the massive church and out above the main castle walls is fantastic. We were really blown away by this place and it was only afterwards that we realised that if they could also open up a few of these magical towers so people could see inside and along the battlements of the castle walls and maybe rebuild the cloister wall around the front garden, then this place would be uber uberamazing.
It took us quite a few years exploring around Green Slovenia's treasure chest of secret places to realise that Slovenia has its own unique catergory of medieval attraction that most countries in this old lady of a continent do not have at all.. the Fortress Church.. put simply neither a church nor a castle, but both.. a church protected by a castle.. principally to keep Ottoman invaders outside..
Well Zice is another MASSIVE Fortress Church.. in this case a Fortress Monastery!
You will very probably and should very probably visit the amazing and unique Predjama castle.. there is nothing like it in the world and Slovenia is full of other fantastic lakes, caves, waterfalls and pretty much everything else that is amazing in Europe.. some are well publicised, even over egged.. but please do trust us here.. there are plenty of unknown wonders here in little old Slovenia that are hardly discovered, but that doesn't mean in the slightest that you shouldn't visit them.. and ZICE is certainly one of those!
A final mention for the ye olde shoppe filled with lots of local goodies and souvenirs, which is outside the main walls at the entrance to the complex in the old INN that was used like a hotel for monastery visitors. And we tried the special monks tea at the cafe..
When we tell you that Green Slovenia is completely empty of tourists, particularly outside just 6 weeks in high summer.. we are completely serious.. cos it is! There is so much undiscovered potential here for your Green holiday with so many undiscovered secrets and uncrowded places..
Green tourism for us is not about the busloads of "selfie taking - experience faking" mass tourists.. that isn't Green tourism..
We are talking about YOU, the families, friends, cyclists and small groups of travellers who completely understand that Slovenian tourism is so deliciously underdeveloped and these amazing places like Zice and so many others are just hiding away, looked after by an army of dedicated local teams or societies all doing their best to open up another tower this year or maybe the gardens next year, but often not even truly realising what treasure they are nurturing on behalf of the rest of the world!
These lovely people need your help and encouragement by just coming here, picking up your own rubbish, spending some money and telling them what an amazing place this is.. until they finally believe it!