Known as the mountain above the city of Zagreb, Sljeme is the highest peak (1035 m) of mountain Medvednica, situated north of the city. The Medvednica mountain is 42 kilometres long, and a majority of the 17.900 ha area is a preserved nature park covered in forest. The mountain has over 70 hiking trails and the same amount of small streams. It has numerous mountain lodges with restaurants and sights to see and explore. It is a perfect place to spend a day or a few, experience nature and get a glimpse of local history the whole year-round.
The Medvednica transversal (trail no.1) is the main hiking trail that connects two sides of the mountain. It can be crossed in 15 to 20 hours of walking. Two of the most popular climbing trails that start at Sljeme tunnel are the Leustek trail and the Bikić trail. Those two trails are brewing with people on the weekends.
Trail no. 14 or the Leustek trail (Croatian: Leustekova staza) is marked as easy, and it takes around 2:30 hours of walking to reach the top. It is also the most popular uphill trail among mountain bikers. About halfway up there is a beautiful hiking rest area Adolfovac. The trail later passes along Stara lugarnica bistro and mountain lodge Dom ‘Željezičar’ and ends 500 meters north at Činovnička livada, which is a steep meadow right below the peak Sljeme.
Trail no. 18 or The Bikić trail (Croatian: Bikćevićeva staza) is marked as a medium difficulty trail. It starts at Sljeme tunnel, goes up along the Bliznec stream, and ends at the largest mountain lodge in the area – Puntijarka, where you can try exceptional strudel among other offerings.
There are many other trails, mountain lodges and rest areas at Medvednica and if you are passionate about hiking and nature, you can check them with the new app made by Hrvatski planinarski savez (Croatian Mountaineering Association). For the list of all trails go to medvednica.info (only in Croatian), or you can buy an official hiking map of the area.
The forest on the mountain is mostly oak, hornbeam, chestnut, beech and fir. It has over 1200 plant species and subspecies with more than 150 protected ones such as orchids, two types of lilies and critically endangered snowdrop anemone.
Although the name of the mountains calls for bears (Medvednica can be translated as ‘The Bear Mountain’), bears haven’t been found here for centuries. That said, it is home to other species such as wild boars, roe deers, foxes and smaller mammals like rabbits and mice.
The mountain has a lot of abandoned mines and caves (the most popular one is Veternica cave) which are now homes for small bats. Veternica cave is open to the public but it is forbidden to visit during the winter because that is when the bats hibernate. Besides mammals, Medvednica is a home for birds, amphibians and reptiles. The most recognizable is black and yellow fire salamander. All reptiles native to the mountain are protected by law and catching them is forbidden.
In 2005, the Croatian Ski Association held the first Women’s World Cup slalom race below Sljeme. Three years later, the men’s race was introduced, and the Snow Queen Trophy (Croatian: Snježna kraljica) was established. Today, it is one of the most popular ski races because it is the only one that is held near the city. The name was given to honour the best Croatian skier to date – Janica Kostelić, who won more medals at the Olympic games than any other female alpine skier.
The race is held on one of four ski slopes below the peak. Besides skiing, you can enjoy snowboarding and sledding. Thanks to the lighting system on two slopes, it is possible to ski at night, too.
Historical structures and heritage
One of the most impressive sights on Medvednica is Medvedgrad, a medieval castle built-in 1254. It was abandoned after the earthquake in 1590. Since the first archeological research at the end of 1970s, Medvedgrad has been under reconstruction. In 1994, under the southern tower, sculptor Kuzma Kovačić made a monument to honour the Croatian heroes named the Homeland Altar (Croatian: Oltar domovini). Today, the castle is open for the public. Visitors can learn about medieval “dark” times and get a beautiful view of the city. In the Summer, the castle is an impressive stage for open-air concerts and other events.
The Medvedgrad is the most prominent architectural site, but Medvednica has many other human-made structures, smaller castles, mines and chapels. Currently, the only mine open to the public is the Zrinski Mine, used to excavate silver in the Middle ages. It is situated near the mountain lodge Grafičar. One curiosity is that the stone chapel of Our Lady of Sljeme, Queen of Croats (Croatian: Majka Božja Sljemenska, Kraljica Hrvata) built 1932 and situated between the Sljeme and lodge Puntijarka, is the highest parish church in Croatia even though the parish has no permanent parishioners.