eaEnjoying another filling breakfast on the sun filled terrace at Abramichi Guesthouse we heaved our packs on and hiked the 10 minutes uphill along cobbled streets to the centre of town. Handing over 5GEL each we jump on the 11am marshutka to Sagarejo where we’re dropped at the turn off to Udbano and are promptly bundled in a friendly local’s taxi (called ahead by our marshutka driver), agree on a rate of 25GEL and head south.
The landscape is completely different from the terrain in Kakheti, with a desert vibe of bare undulating hills, shepherds herding flocks of sheep and strong winds. We stop for a couple of photo opportunities and a chance to take in the location wedged between the high Caucasus mountains to the north and the Lesser Caucasus to the south, signalling the border with Azerbaijan.
So one of, if not, our favourite place to stay in Georgia was at Oasis Club Hostel on the outskirts of the village of Udabno, a small village in seemingly the middle of nowhere. Oasis Club Hostel is pretty fittingly named then. Located at the entrance to town a couple of white painted old buildings have been spruced up with a lick of colourful paint and wooden packing pallets have been put to industrious use to create a true little desert oasis. Being the only visitors in the winter off season (during summer between 700-1000 people pass through here each day) we’re given a warm welcome and shown to a private cabin with a full glass front soaking up all of the afternoon south facing sunshine. But not before we’re served up a hearty dish of Polish soup, a strong espresso and a glass of locally made white wine.
The owner is in the process of building a convertible stage/gallery/market space from recycled packing pallets and in summer hammocks are scattered around for guests. They’re hoping to gain funding for summer performances including a local ladies 12 piece polyphonic singers group once a month, puppet shows and bands from Tbilisi and the surrounding area. A French expat currently working here is also bringing locals business by renting their horses to hostel visitors to ride in the nearby open farmlands. If all this isn’t enough to convince you to visit, for the past few years they’ve been loading a bus with local kids and taking them skiing.
Sitting in the afternoon sun we have time to put our feet up and take in the crowing of nearby roosters, piglets foraging on the street and tractors roaming across the bare farmlands. There’s not much else to distract you from the openness and without WiFi it’s the perfect place to shut off. Udabno is a popular place in summer as it’s on the road to David Gareja Monastery. Our Polish host and hostel owner Ksawery (Xavier) knows how to cook a hearty meal and without any other restaurant options we happily feast on soup, Georgian bread and homemade cabbage rolls and apple pie for dinner. Breakfast is also provided and is equally as scrumptious with eggs cooked in sour cream, garlic spinach and nutmeg.
With a whole day to spare the following morning the decision is made to hike through the fields and over a couple of hills to the monastery complex only the fog has really set in and visibility is down to 20 meters maximum. Not allowing this to deter us we head out with our compass into the white cloud abyss. Accompanied by the hostels two friendly dogs, one big and one small, we also arm ourselves with a couple of big sticks and pockets full of stones in the knowledge that one particular farmhouse we may encounter is protected by two large hyena looking dogs.
After an hour or so of mostly flat slightly inclined farmlands we reach our first uphill. A short hill drops us down to the first of three valleys where we encounter the dreaded farmland. Hearing barking in the distance our canine friends are not bothered in the slightest and eventually the farmland appears, as do two massive dogs making their way in our direction. Luckily we’d managed to pass the farmland mostly unnoticed in the fog and by the time the dogs had chased us almost 1km up the hill they were too tired to come any further.
Our next obstacle came in the form of a cliff and the second valley which we couldn’t so easily pass. Heading left, the direction in which our compass told us the monastery was located, we navigate around it and finally drop down the valley floor. It’s here that we run into our first shepherd of the day and watch our little hostel dog race towards his flock and disperse them across the hillside. Getting our dog under control the shepherd approaches us to say hello and ask if we had any cigarettes which unfortunately we didn’t.
As the hours drifted by we stuck to the valleys and creek beds to avoid an unnecessary uphill hike. Eventually we approached the monastery from a direction we didn’t intend but atleast we only had one final uphill to get there. Certainly taking the long route we manage to find our way to the David Gareja Monastery though once inside we can only just make out the cave dwellings dug into the cliff side through the cloud. Climbing up a path to the left of the gift shop we hope that over the Azerbaijani side of the border the skies are clear enough to see the view that so many people talk about.
Well it just as bad up there with the cloud so lunch is taken as the clouds roll over us and descend into the valley below. We stick it out and eventually find some blue sky however the cloud only drops low enough for us to be above it and we never get that view of Azerbaijan we were hoping for. We do however manage to make an incognito hop across the border sans visa into Azerbaijan whoop!
With daylight hours fading we drag our weary dogs back on a more direct though slightly more hilly route to the hostel. Dropping down from the ridge which forms the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan we’re greeted to something we’d previously been unable to see. The rolling fields of striped rock appear to be from another planet and we weave our way through, over and across them to summit the first ridge.
It’s not long before we find a familiar road which soon fills us with apprehension when we realise we’re approaching the hyena dog farmhouse. Sure enough with the fog gone they spot us a little more quickly and we’re soon heading as far away from the house and in the totally wrong direction to the hostel in order to avoid them. Two huge dogs soon approach us though we’ve come prepared and our sticks and stones lobbed in their direction, along with our canine friends continued nonchalance, seems to keep them at bay.
Soon enough the ground flattens out and we join the local cows heading home to town and it’s not long before we spot the white painted hostel shining in the setting sun. As we arrive the fog rolls quickly back in, our faithful companions head straight to sleep and we enjoy another delicious home cooked meal of cream of beetroot soup, potato pancakes and a couple of glasses of homemade white wine.
The next morning we wake feeling super refreshed and wait for the local marshutka to toot on it’s way past but when it hasn’t arrived by 8:30 our host drives us a few kilometres to the ‘hitch hikers bench’ where we wait just five minutes for the elusive marshutka to pick us up and deliver us back to Tbilisi.
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions or comments feel free to hit us up below! You can also check out more of our travel photos on our Flickr page here.
Tips for Udabno
- You can reach Udabno by taxi from Sagarejo for around 20-25GEL. There are marshutkas but they only run once or twice a day and aren’t consistent.
- Oasis Club have dorms available in summer (they were under renovation when we visited in winter) and also five new double private cabins with private bathroom.
- Breakfast and dinner can be provided for an additional fee and with local restaurants lacking and Ksawery’s brilliant cooking skills you’ll probably not want to pass it up.
- There’s no potable water available in town so best to bring your own from Tbilish or pick up some in Sagarejo before you come. Likewise with snacks etc if you plan on hiking.
- It’s not hard to walk from the hostel to the monastery complex. You can either follow the roadway (about 14km one way) or just hike a direct line through the farmlands and valleys as we did (about 8km one way). If you’re taking the direct route be careful in summer as there are lots of snakes around in the long grass. In winter you won’t have any trouble.
- If hiking through the farmland be wary of getting to close to the farm properties, they will have dogs, they will chase you and you will be afraid. Sticks and stones people, sticks and stones.