Žabljak is a small town in northern Montenegro. It has a population of 1,937. Žabljak is the seat of the municipality (2003 population: 4,204). The town is in the center of the Durmitor mountain region and with an altitude of 1,456 meters, it is the highest situated town on the Balkans.
History of Zabljak
The first Slav name of the place was “Varezina voda” possibly because of the strong source of drinkable water nearby, making a settlement possible. Later, the town was renamed “Hanovi” (originally “Anovi”) because it was where caravans rested. The modern name dates from 1870, when in a single day the building of a school, church and captain’s home began. However, almost all the original buildings were destroyed during the Balkan Wars. All that has remained is the old church of Sv. Preobraženje (Holy Transfiguration), built in 1862 as a monument to a Montenegrin victory in the battle against the Turks. After Žabljak was established as a town, stores and cafés were opened. As such, in the 1880s Žabljak became a market town, leading it to become administrative center of the region.
In the period shortly before World War II, Žabljak was a small town with typical mountain architecture. Its unique nature was already drawing the attention of tourists from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and also from abroad, especially Italy (because of close ties between Montenegro and Italy). During World War II, Žabljak was burnt right to its foundations. After the war, Žabljak rebuilt itself and became Montenegro’s center for winter sports.
Tourism in Zabljak
Žabljak is centre of Montenegro’s mountain tourism. The entire area of Durmitor mountain is protected as a national park, and offers great possibilities for both winter and summer mountain tourism. Žabljak caters for activities such as: Skiing – Durmitor’s snow cover lasts 120 days per year, with decent slopes such as Savin kuk, Štuoc and Javorovača. Rafting – the 13 km (8.1 mi) deep Tara River canyon is the second deepest in the world, and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Žabljak is largest town on mountain Durmitor, high mountain in northern Montenegro (2,522 m). Žabljak itself is town at highest altitude in the Balkans, at 1,450 m above sea level. Although being a center of municipality of the same name, it is a small town of some 2,000 inhabitants. The town of Žabljak and the whole municipality with Durmitor, Sinjajevina and Tara canyon, make up a very interesting tourist destination.
The Montenegrins’, Serbs’ and Croats’ languages are all mutually intelligible and derived from Serbo-Croat. Because of the more northern isolated location foreign languages are less common so communicating here could be a little bit harder.
- By bus — Žabljak bus station is connected with most town’s but the frequency of departments is not very often, because of the travel duration and high location so plan your arrival/department well. Most fares are between 6-12 euro’s one way.
- By car — There is a new and high quality road from Risan on the Kotor Bay via Nikšić to Žabljak.
Alternatively one can get to Žabljak either by departing the road from the Montenegrin coast to Serbia at Mojkovac (this passes the famous Tara bridge) or by taking the old Podgorica to Šavnik road, where the new route can be joined for the final stretch. All three routes are curvy, mountainous roads that don’t permit high speeds and require additional caution. During the winter, when whole area is blanketed with snow, those unfamiliar with the roads should let someone more experienced and informed get them to Žabljak, as roads might get covered with snow and ice.
Žabljak is very small town, so everything is within walking distance. You can get to some of the lakes around the town only by foot – it’s untouched nature! However, some chairlifts, skiing pistes etc. are reachable only by car.
- Eyes of the mountain — any of the 18 glacier lakes on the Durmitor mountain, the biggest, most beautiful and closest to Žabljak being “Crno jezero” – Black lake.
- Tara Canyon — deepest canyon in Europe, second deepest in the world, right after Colorado’s Grand canyon. It’s listed with UNESCO World Heritage List.
- Durmitor national park — The Durmitor National Park, created in 1952, includes the massif of Durmitor, the canyons of Tara, Sušica and Draga rivers and the higher part of the canyon plateau , covering the area of 390 km². It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1980. There are beautiful landscapes and unique nature.
- Skiing — Durmitor’s snow cover lasts 120 days per year and its best slopes are Savin kuk, Štuoc and Javorovača. Savin kuk has two chairlifts, a ski lift, nursery lift and a ski service. Savin kuk slope is 3,500m long. Štuoc is somewhat shorter (2,600m) but very exciting, and Javorovača’s 800m are perfect for those prefering short runs. The langlauf runs are 3 to 12km long.
- Rafting —1,3km deep Tara river canyon offers unforgettable rafting expirience. You can go rafting by boat or a wooden raft down the 100km of the most beautiful and exciting part of tara. The usual route is from Splavište down to Šćepan polje, and in between you can see Ljutice falls, 165m high magnificent Tara bridge, old Roman road and Lever tara. The scenery at Tepački bukovi, Sušica canyon, Bailove sige, and Brstanovića bukovi is breathtaking! During the river trip, either dinner or launch is served in natural scenery on the river banks. Rafting tour can also start at Radovan luka or Brstanovica. There is a couple of travel agencies offering rafting tours. Half-day tour costs 40-50 euro, you must book the tour one day ahead. Full day is 100 euro and you must have a group of at least 4 people.
- Mountaineering — Durmitor has perfect conditions for this sport, as cliffs and slopes are abundant. There are many well marked routes taking you high in to the mountains.
- Cycling — Paths around the Crno jezero (Black lake), form the lake to Žabljak and numerous other paths are great for this type of recreation.
- Hiking — anywhere around the town, exploring the wilderness,with it’s lakes, mountains and canyons.
Žabljak is not really a shopping resort, leave that for coastal towns or Podgorica. It is, however, the right place to buy a genuine Montenegrin healthy food from the locals.
Žabljak has some excellent national cuisine restaurants. Notably, there is “Katun” restaurant on the very shore of Crno jezero, “MB” motel-restaurant, “Momčilov grad” on the Štuoc…
Cold hors d’ouevres include the famous njeguški pršut (smoked ham) and njeguški cheese, pljevaljski cheese, mushrooms, donuts and dried bleak. The main courses specific for the northern mountainous regional boiled lamb, lamb cooked in milk, cicvara in fresh milk cream (buttered corn porridge), boiled potatoes with cheese and fresh cream (kajmak).
It might be a good idea to make an order and reserve seats a few hours in advance, as restaurants are small and may be crowded and it might take some time to prepare the courses in traditional way.
Usually the portions of meat are quite large, 300-450g, so if you are not very hungry you can easily share one portion.
Rafting on Tara River is one of the most popular tourist activities in Montenegro. Mountaineering – Durmitor’s conditions are appropriate for this sport. Hiking – The surrounding area of the town of Žabljak provides hiking paths. Among the main tourist attractions of Durmitor are 18 glacier lakes; the biggest and closest to Žabljak being “Crno jezero” – literally Black lake. Durmitor’s slopes are also becoming increasingly popular among snowboarders.
“Didn’t the old legend told, when god had created the earth, he flown over it with 3 bags who carried earth, seeds, and rocks. Every country got his share. Untill the devil suddenly appeared and cutted the bag filled with rocks. The country were the rocks were tumbling on would be known as Montenegro.”
Transport to Zabljak
One problem hampering the development of Žabljak as major regional mountain tourism destination is the lack of quality road infrastructure. The situation has been improving somewhat in recent years. Žabljak’s main road connection with the rest of Montenegro is the road that links Žabljak with Mojkovac and the E65, the main road connection between the Montenegrin coast, Podgorica and the north. The other significant road connection is through Šavnik and Nikšić, on to or Podgorica. Since 2010, with the reconstruction of the Risan-Žabljak road, the average trip from Žabljak to the Adriatic sea is shortened to cca. two hours. The town has an airport (Žabljak Airport) but the closest International Airport is Podgorica Airport some 170 km (110 mi) away which has regular flights to destinations throughout Europe. There are regular minibus links with Nikšić and Podgorica which arrive at the centrally located Žabljak bus station.
Montenegrin quality wine is a must-try. The best known Montenegrin wines are the premium “Vranac”, “Pro Corde”, “Krstač”, “Cabernet”, “Chardonnay” and the famous home made Crmničko red wine.
Grape brandy (rakija) “Montenegrin loza”, “Prvijenac”, “Kruna” or home made grape brandy (lozova rakija, lozovaca) is also great.
There are four major hotels in Žabljak: Planinka, Jezera, Žabljak and Durmitor. Besides these, there are many small motels (MB, Bjeloor…) in and around town, not to mention that almost every local resident is willing to rent a room at an affordable price – accommodation in Žabljak is abundant, except around New year’s eve, when the place is overcrowded.
- the Coast — the Montenegrin coast has a lot to offer, historic towns as Kotor and Budva, monuments, beautiful scenery and off course beaches to enjoy the sunshine.
- Durmitor national park — This breathtaking national park was formed by glaciers and is traversed by rivers and underground streams. Along the Tara river canyon, which has the deepest gorges in Europe, the dense pine forests are interspersed with clear lakes and harbour a wide range of endemic flora.
- Tara river canyon — One of the longest rivers of the Balkans is river Tara. Canyon of river Tara is a unique phenomenon in its depth of 1000 and 1300 metres in some places. It ranks just behind the Grand Canyon of Colorado River in the United States.
- Biogradska national park — Biogradska Gora is a forest and a national park in Montenegro within the Kolasin municipality. Biogradska Gora located in the mountainous region of Bjelasica in the central part of Montenegro between the rivers Tara and Lim.
- Djurdjevica bridge — Djurdjevica Bridge is a concrete arch bridge over the Tara River in northern Montenegro. It is located at the crossroads between Mojkovac, Žabljak and Pljevlja, between the villages of Budečevica and Trešnjica. It was built between 1937 and 1940, it’s 365m long and the roadway stands 172 metres above the river.