Zabljak is one of the small tourist centres in Montenegro's North. The steep and drawn-down roofs of its houses reveal that winters are harsh. The few socialist hotels are in bad shape, and most of the socialist-era ski lifts lie in disrepair. The transformation witnessed in the South and the capital Podgorica are slow to make their way up to Zabljak.
The North of Montenegro has been particularly isolated over the centuries. Ottoman forces, which conquered the medieval Balkan states in the 14th and 15th centuries, made little effort to enforce their rule in this poor and sparsely populated region, leaving the population to run its own internal affairs. Society was organised in tribes (pleme) controlling a certain territory. Beneath the tribe were smaller units of families that traced their descent to a common ancestor (clan or bratstvo). A clan could number as many as 250 members, and was usually headed by the oldest member of the clan. Every tribe had its chief and an assembly of elders.
It was not until the mid-19th century that the Montenegrin rulers in Cetinje managed to bring the tribes in the North under direct control. However, the Northern parts of Montenegro remained remote and inaccessible well into the 20th century.
Slowly, with its mountains, canyons and idyllic villages, the North is making a name for itself as a tourist destination. Residents of Podgorica like to take refuge from the summer heat of the capital in the mountainous North, and enjoy the tranquillity of village life. Foreign tourists have started to discover the forests, idyllic lakes and mountain paths.
The more adventurous ones enjoy rafting trips in the Tara Canyon. At 82 kilometres, it is the second longest canyon in the world and has been proclaimed a world heritage site by UNESCO. It is part of the Durmitor national park.
However, Zabljak is still one of Montenegro's poorest municipalities. Lacking modern hotels and decent restaurants, it has a long way to go to become an attractive tourist destination.