From Fern Gully to Tinkerbell, and even old Irish legends, faeries have found a soft spot in our childhoods and cultures. While they may not actually exist, it’s always fun to dream about what it'd be like if they did! Of all the places to explore in Alabama, Ave Maria Grotto is a unique one to add to your list. This miniature stone city looks like something from a fairytale, where the fair-folk could live in harmony with sprites and pixies alike.

Only about an hour's trip from Birmingham, Ave Maria Grotto can be found on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama.

You can lose yourself in miniature magic while you explore nearly two blocks of 125 tiny stone and cement structures. Little homes, churches, ponds, and sculptures of people bring together the whole vibe of feeling like a bustling faery city.

While the sculptures are not actually the work of the fae, the feat of completing the city came from one man — Brother Joseph Zoetl from the Order of St. Benedict, a creative monk who served at the Abbey for nearly 70 years.

But who’s to say he didn’t build his city with faeries in mind?

The winding path that takes you through the tiny town passes a large grotto on the lower side of the hill. It was originally opened as a stone quarry for the Abbey, but Brother Joseph incorporated it into this work.

The last sculpture, a replica of Lourdes Basilica Church, was constructed in 1958 when Brother Joseph was 80 years old.

Born in Bavaria, Brother Joseph arrived at the Abbey in 1892. His passion project was built in between prayers and his work in the Abbey powerhouse.

Inspired by biblical stories, historical events, and his own imagination, Brother Joseph adored the tiny sculptures with reclaimed materials like broken plates, jewelry, beads, and seashells.

While touring the tiny town, you can stop by Brother Joseph’s grave that rests in the Abbey Cemetery. You can also visit the Abbey Gift Shop, where you’ll find trinkets, treasures, and a little bit of everyday magic.

Ave Maria Grotto

Price: $8 admission

Address: 1600 St Bernard Dr, Cullman, AL

Why You Need To Go: This stunning tiny stone city makes for a pleasant walk and a great place to let your imagination run wild!

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