Hejnice (German: Haindorf) is a small town of about 2,600 people in the Liberec district located at the northern slopes of the Jizera Mountains in the valley of the river Smědá and an important place of Catholic pilgrimage because of an old legend and the basilica there. About 40 km from Görlitz, the beautiful basilica, as well as the great hiking paths that start directly behind the church, make Hejnice an excellent day trip. Unfortunately the town is difficult to reach by public transport, so unless you are starting out in Liberec, I would recommend taking a car there.
According to legend, a poor exhausted sieve maker laid down to rest under a linden tree in the forest. While he slept, an angel told him how to heal his ill wife and child. He was instructed to purchase a picture of the Virgin Mary and to place it in that spot. He acquired a picture of the Virgin Mary in Zittau and attached it to the tree as he was instructed, then he prayed for his family. His wife and child were miraculously healed, just as the angel had promised. News of the miracle spread, and people began to come to this place seeking their own miracles. A chapel was built at the site in 1211 by a member of the noble family von Bieberstein. The family later lived at Castle Frýdlant and became embroiled in a feud with the city of Görlitz, which ended with von Bieberstein paying to build the Frauenkirche in order to make amends. Click here to read more about Castle Frýdlant and the feud.
A village developed around the chapel in Hejnice and after further miraculous healings were said to take place there, it was expanded and converted to a Gothic church. The church was protestant Lutheran, like all of Bohemia, until the re-catholicization of Bohemia after the Thirty Years’ War. In 1690 the Franciscan Order took over the church and pilgrimage. The many visitors to the site made Hejnice a prosperous place.
In 1761 the church burned down, but the miraculous Gothic statue of the Virgin Mary, Mater Formosa, was saved. You can see this 38 cm tall statue inside a cabinet at the main altar. The church was rebuilt in the 18th century as a Baroque basilica with space for 7,000 visitors. Today the basilica is surrounded by linden trees and contains the crypt of the family Gallas, who also later resided at Castle Frýdlant. The town continues to be a popular destination not only for pilgrims (the main pilgrimage takes place every year on May 31st), but for hikers and bikers as well.
The river Smědá runs directly behind the church. To the right of the church are stairs which lead you behind the church, across the river and up a short hill. The various hiking paths begin here. During my visit, I decided to follow the red trail to Ořešník, a lookout point with a cross which you can see as a slight bump on the right side of the mountain in the distance.
Ořešník is 800 m high and one of the most challenging peaks in the Jizera Mountains. Since 1898, the highest point has been accessible & secured by stairs carved into the stone and hand rails. The cross at the top reminds us of an unfortunate accident in 1819 when two Franciscans fell to their deaths. The path leads you first through an open field and then quickly up the side of the mountain. It’s about 9km of fairly steep hiking – the path is rocky and uneven, often with debris in the way. As I got higher, I encountered snow (in March). I was treated to interesting views of rock formations along the way.
Once I got to the top, I had to secure my camera and my belongings to climb the staircase to the lookout point. I am not usually afraid of heights, but I have to confess that this made me nervous. It would be very easy to lose your footing and fall off the lookout point. I was glad that it wasn’t very windy that day. At the top, once your heart stops pounding, you can pause to enjoy the view across the valley while tightly gripping the hand rail.
After climbing back down the steps, I continued on the red path to the Velky waterfall to the northwest (Velky or Cerny Stolpich). The creek has created numerous waterfalls along the way and Velky is the largest, 36.5 meters high with an average flow of 80 liters per second. After the heart-pounding views at Ořešník, I wasn’t overly impressed by the waterfall, but I was happy to be heading in a downhill direction. On the way to the waterfall I was trudging through deep snow, which I hadn’t anticipated. The hike to Ořešník was difficult, but extremely rewarding because of the spectacular views.
After the waterfall, the red path meets up with the yellow path and then the green path which takes you through a small village called Ferdinandov and back to Hejnice. I decided to take this route, instead of continuing further on the red path. The yellow and green paths are much more smooth and suited for the more casual hiker.
On the green path you will pass a large stone with a plaque on it commemorating Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and wife of Franz Joseph I. You may wonder what a plaque honoring Sissi is doing out in the middle of nowhere in Czech Republic, and rightfully so. Although Sissi never stepped foot at this location, many statues and monuments were erected in her honor as she became a sort of cult figure, including this plaque on the Stolpich path.
Hejnice is a place that I would like to visit again. Although very small, the town has restaurants that I’d still like to try and I am keen on attempting some of the other hiking paths behind the basilica. The hike to Ořešník was a bit demanding for the casual hiker, so if you are looking for a more relaxed hike, I recommend starting with the green path to Stolpich gorge (Velpy Stolpich). Afterwards you can cool off in the basilica, where they sometimes have concerts, or enjoy an ice cream at the cafe right out front.
Here are some short video clips of my hike to Ořešník: