Wiśniowa, centre of the village (where the road briefly changes course from north-south to east-west). There’s plenty of choice for car parks: on the main road, a little higher up at the church or the fire house of the volunteer fire brigade or even higher up at the cemetery.
Let route no. 964 between Dobczyce (14 kilometres) and Kasina Wielka (11 kilometres) be a point of reference.
Approximately 5 hours (signs in the field show an exaggerated walking time, about 6 hours in total)
A rather easy trail, but with a long, strenuous ascent to Ciecień.
Let’s start by taking a look at the Church of St Martin in Wiśniowa, which was built between 1720 and 1730. The church, inconspicuous on the outside, hides rich Baroque furnishings and a polychrome with floral motifs inside. The main altar contains a 17th-century painting of Our Lady of Wiśniowa, which is famous for its graces.
From the church, we set off up the hill, following the yellow and green signs, with the massif of Ciecień visible in the distance. After about 20 minutes, at the bifurcation, we go right, now following only the green signs. As we ascend through the forest, it’s worthwhile to even out the breath and look back to see the valley we came out of and Kamiennik (on the right) and Lubomir with Łysina visible behind it. There’s an ongoing dispute among naturalists, geographers and tourists as to whether these hills belong to Beskid Makowski or perhaps Beskid Wyspowy, where we’re now.
We’ll pass the next hour or so on the monotonous, sometimes tiring ascent to the summit of Ciecień. Particularly unpleasant is the first dozen or so minutes when the road is steep and with numerous loose stones. The ascent then gets less burdensome; we’re still following the ridge southwards.
Although signs in Wiśniowa show that it should take about two hours to reach the summit, the real hiking time is about an hour and a half.
At the summit itself, there’s nothing interesting except a plaque confirming that we’ve conquered Ciecień. The biggest attraction awaits 100 metres away, on the blue trail to Wierzbanowa: a vast clearing descending steeply towards the valley, offering a panorama of the peaks we already know, and from which paragliders often take off.
Through forests and orchards
From the summit of Ciecień until we return to Wiśniowa, we’ll hike following the Cistercian trail via the yellow signs. A signpost shows that we’ll reach Szczyrzyc in 2 hours, though the real time is shorter, even by half an hour.
The first section (about 10 minutes) is steep and unpleasant. When a flat section appears, you need to turn right. We walk together with the red signs for a few minutes, after which the yellow trail turns left, almost turning around. After less than 10 minutes, we meet the red signs again. We can feel a bit lost and afraid that we’ve gone astray. No worries, we’re on the right track. This incomprehensible positioning of the signs is due to the fact that the red trail coming from Szczyrzyc has to join the green trail for a while. Perhaps it would have been simpler to run the red signs as a ‘shortcut’ and mark a short link trail, but since it was thought otherwise, we have to accept it.
About half an hour after setting off from the summit, we’ll come to a small clearing with a deer stand, where we’ll turn right. The trail sometimes runs gently down the traverse of the slope and sometimes descends steeply. Such situation repeats several times. Maybe it’s for the better, because our legs don’t get too tired on the steep passages, and the monotony doesn’t bother us on the traverses.
After less than a quarter of an hour from the clearing with the deer stand, we’ll enter a forest road and soon leave the forest. After a while, the tarmac begins, and the hike becomes comfortable. On the right, we’re accompanied by a view of Śnieżnica. There isn’t much signage, but orientation in the area isn’t difficult. Perhaps only at the bifurcation, in the middle of which there’s a pole with a transformer, will you need to pay attention to turn left.
The time it takes to complete the section to the centre of Szczyrzyc depends largely on the weather and on how fast your legs will carry you through the area full of scattered buildings, around which there are many home gardens and orchards. After descending into the valley of the Stradomka Stream, we head left. At the crossroads to Jodłownik, we’ll pass a place with many plaques commemorating the successive anniversaries of Poland regaining independence in 1918 and the Szczyrzyce inhabitants who fell during World War II. Across the street is a small cemetery with the graves of those who fell in World War I.
A Cistercian abbey, where beer is brewed
At the trail junction (about 1 hour 30 minutes from the summit of Ciecień), it’s advisable to leave the marked trail for a while and head to the right, to the Cistercian abbey visible further down by the street. The monks were brought to Szczyrzyc in the 13th century by the Kraków voivode Teodor Cedro Gryfita, whose monument stands on a small square by the main road.
The monastery complex is made up of the Church of St Mary of the Assumption and St Stanislaus the Bishop, where pilgrims come to pray in front of the miraculous image of the Virgin with Child and to visit the monastery museum . It houses a rich collection of firearms and small arms, old prints, numismatic items, vessels and liturgical vestments from the 17th and 18th centuries. A separate part of the exhibition is dedicated to the writer Władysław Orkan, who was a pupil at the local four-grade school.
After the tour, it’s time to think about a meal, as we still have nearly 2 hours of hiking ahead of us. There’s a pizzeria and a regional restaurant also serving... beers brewed in the Cistercian brewery, the history of which dates back to the 18th century. Nationalised after World War II, over the years, the plant produced something that had less and less to do with beer. In 1993, after many years of effort, the monks regained the brewery, which was renamed Gryf, referring to the Szczyrzyc coat of arms, and after a period of renovation, the brewery returned to the recipes from centuries before.
There are two interesting sites near Szczyrzyc. The first one is called Diabelski Kamień (Devil’s Stone). It is said to have been carried there by the devil to demolish the Szczyrzyc monastery, but the devil dropped the boulder when the sound of the church bell rang; his claws then carved five grooves into the stone.
The second is the Native American village, an open-air museum related to the culture of Native Americans. Here you can see smaller and larger teepees, handicrafts and costumes of the prairie people.
On the way back
As we mentioned earlier, we’ll hike to Wiśniowa following the yellow signs. From the centre of Szczyrzyc, we walk for about half an hour along a tarmac road between houses. The monotony of the climb can be broken up by looking out for the numerous shrines on the walls of buildings along this section. At the point where we enter the forest, the tedious ascent to Księża Góra begins. We don’t climb too high, but due to the angle of the incline, some sections can be tiring. An opportunity to rest and slow your breathing is provided by the slightly gentler sections that appear from time to time.
When we reach a bifurcation in the road in a small clearing, we can breathe more freely. This is a sign that the worst is behind us. After a few minutes on almost flat terrain, we’re already at the junction with the blue trail running here from Ciecień (about 1 hour 30 minutes from Szczyrzyc). The road will only continue downhill, all the time following the yellow signs, the existence of which isn’t shown on many maps.
Just another quarter of an hour or so of walking through the forest and we’ll come out onto a tarmac road that will lead us to where we left the car. The hike is enhanced by panoramic views: slightly back, the characteristic Grodzisk peak; to the right, in the distance, the TV mast on Chorągwica near Wieliczka; and in front, the familiar Kamiennik and Lubomir with Łysina. Less than half an hour after setting off from Księża Góra, we’ll close the loop, meeting the green signs with which we were hiking to Ciecień in the morning. From here, we have only a few minutes of peaceful descent to the centre of Wiśniowa.