Usually when people are coming to Montenegro I get asked the same question every time: should I stay in Kotor or Budva?
The answer is always Kotor — but there’s a lot more to Montenegro than just the coast. The north of Montenegro is like another world ten degrees cooler and home to the wild beauty advertised on all the tourist brochures.
Žabljak is probably the most well known spot in the north, a small town of 2000 people and hiking hub, and base for exploring the Durmitor National Park.
In winter the area disappears under metres of snow, but in the summer it is an interesting combination of Podgorica people escaping the lowland heat for their weekend houses, Hungarian bikers enjoying the picturesque roads, and fit-looking hikers from all over the globe.
I’m yet to reach the level of hiking prowess necessary for scaling peaks, so I usually go to Žabljak just to enjoy some decent long walks and views of rather gorgeous scenery.
Here are a few of my favourite things…
The Durmitor Ring
The most famous tourist attraction is the Durmitor Ring, a circular road beginning and ending in Žabljak that takes you through the wild mountain scenery of Durmitor National Park. It passes through tiny villages, picturesque lakes (if you go in spring you’ll see all of them), canyons hundreds of metres deep, pine forests, and high country summer sheep holdings.
It’s just incredible.
Don’t bother to look this route up on Google Maps, it isn’t there. Here is a link to an official map if you need it, but once you’re on the ground the route is well signed and difficult to get lost. You don’t need a 4×4 as the roads are paved, but they are one lane and very narrow, so watch out for oncoming traffic.
You can do the ring in two directions: one begins from the town of Žabljak itself and climbs down into the canyon and Šusičko lake. The other begins a few kilometres outside town back towards Šavnik and climbs to Sedlo Pass.
I recommend the first option, as the most challenging driving on the ring is in the forest, up and down into the canyon, and you’ll do that while you’re fresh. You also get a nice build up from forest views to green plateau plains and then the most spectacular mountains towards the end of the ring.
Caveat: don’t try this road before late May at the very earliest as you’re likely to be confronted by a wall of snow rather than a road. Not many people live up there and so the roads don’t get cleared all winter.
Across from the main highway to Žabljak is a huge plain of green that hides my favourite lake in Montenegro, Vražje Jezero (Devil’s Lake). It’s supposedly called this way because it looks like an eye – it has a pale blue ring around a deep blue center.
Go in the late afternoon, the angled sun brings out the fullest contrast in the colours and you can sit on the hill next to it. Climb the small hill next to the lake to enjoy the view, and listen to the local shepherd singing to his sheep.
The most famous lake in Montenego is Crno Jezero (Black Lake). This is maybe a fifteen minute walk from the centre of Žabljak and has all the Montenegrin accoutrements necessary for life – a cafe, music and lots of good spots for Instagram photos.
You can take an easy 45 minute walk around the lake in summer (in spring the trail might be broken by small waterfalls).
Continuing further from Black Lake, past old mills and streams, you can continue to the next lake, Zminje Jezero (Snake Lake). Do this walk in August and you will still find springs to fill up your water bottle and wild berries to snack on along the path (the tiniest but most delicious raspberries, strawberries and blueberries you will ever have).
Another of my favourites, at the beginning of the Durmitor ring and less than an easy hour’s hike from the road, is Jablan Jezero. A short hike up the hill next to it and you can perch on a rock and enjoy the lake from above (always the best way to see these lakes, in my opinion).
Further along the Durmitor ring, down in the canyon, is Sušičko Jezero (Dry Lake). I was extremely puzzled on my first visit here, as all I found was a large grassy field.
It’s actually a spring lake – it only exists in early spring when the snow is melting. If you’re here in early to late June (time varies each year depending on the amount of snow and when spring arrives) it’s a seriously gorgeous spot.
Last year I saw some new and clearly EU funded signs around Vražje pointing to ‘Stećci’ and decided to follow them and see what was there.
Surprisingly it did not lead to a small village called Stećci but instead to a field with beautiful carved stone gravestones just lying about.
The stećci are actually tombstones and grave markers of a mysterious medieval tribe who lived in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina and northern Montenegro. There are two sites near Žabljak, one near Riblije Jezero and another on the same road a few kilometres further to the north.
Very little is known about the tribes, but they definitely had an eye for the best sites around for their burials.
After a day of walks and exploring I like to finish up at the at the restaurant at the Etno Selo Šljeme. Down a side road that parallels the main highway, the restaurant has one of the best views in the area, staring straight at Savin Kuk mountain.
Unusually for a restaurant with a view they also do decent food – particularly the meat. The porodični ručak (family lunch) is of ridiculous size, served up with almost two kilos of meat and costs less than 30 euro. Best to walk the 6km back to Žabljak after dinner here…!
Enjoy this part of the north! Eventually I hope to be able to write about the hikes in this region as well, just give me a few more seasons to get into Montenegrin hiking shape.
Top Proper Hikes Around Žabljak (according to proper hikers)