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CHARTERHOUSE ŽIČE: A timeless attraction at the end of a tranquil valle

Serene, tranquil and fascinating, this is an important cultural monument and is a beautiful place to visit. Dating from 1165, the partially ruined monastery sits in the St Janez (St John) valley, a short drive away from Slovenske Konjice, albeit one that requires passing under the motorway twice.

It is not only the oldest Carthusian monastery in Slovenia, but also the first to be built outside of France or Italy, and also boasted one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe. In a beautiful location surrounded by rolling hills and forest, it attracts around 20,000 visitors a year. Although the monastery of brothers closed in the 18th century, the monks’ houses, dining room, kitchen and church remained.

The ruins that are left are remarkable, with towers, stone walls and exposed brickwork and renovation work is ongoing. Even the cathedral, which has no roof and is overgrown with plants, is so impressive that it is still used for weddings. But, as lovely as the gothic arches and round watch towers are, there’s much more to it than just a building. In summer, benches are set up in the middle of the main courtyard and concerts are held here. It even has its own wine cellar featuring sparkling wines from the award-winning Zlati Grič winery. The monastery shop is a treat too, selling medicinal herbs from the herb garden, elixirs and schnapps. The schnapps are mostly herbal (and so they’re good for you!) but they also sell beer schnapps (aka pivo liker), which we’ve still never seen anywhere else.

Once an important centre of influence, the monastery was attacked during the Ottoman raids of 1531. After this its fortunes started to decline. It changed hands from the monks to the Jesuits of Graz and back to the Carthusians again before being abolished in 1782 by Emperor Joseph II. The charterhouse fell into ruin and was owned by Prince Weriand of Windisch-Graetz and his family until the end of World War II. It is now owned by the municipality of Slovenske Konjice.

The Carthusian order placed a great deal of importance in writing and creating texts and the main section of the monastery has an exhibition of old manuscripts. There is a permanent exhibition in the restored upper section of the outbuilding. Here, you can learn about the history of the charterhouse by taking your own tour with an audio guide or joining a pre-booked group. At the entrance to the monastery is the Gastuž Inn (www.gastuz.si), which is not only the oldest inn on Slovenian territory, dating back to 1467, it is also one of the oldest still operating in all of Central Europe.

To discover other unique places in Slovenia, check out THE SLOVENIA BOOK – AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST OF SLOVENIA