Less of a monastery than a series of cave-hewn chapels, Udabno runs along a steep escarpment looking down to grassy plains in Azerbaijan. While many caves are ruins, some contain fascinating frescoes painted in the 10th to 13th centuries, though the neglect is shocking with many centuries-old paintings covered in graffiti.
The exact line of the Georgia–Azerbaijan border up here has not yet been finally demarcated, and you may find Azerbaijan border guards patrolling here; they are not normally any hindrance to visiting the caves unless there is a flare-up of border tensions.
To reach Udabno, take the path uphill beside the church shop outside Lavra monastery. Watch out for poisonous vipers, including in the caves and especially from April to June. At a watchtower overlooking Lavra, take the path straight up the hill. In about 10 minutes you reach a metal railing. Follow this to the top of the ridge, then to the left along the far side of the ridge (where the railing deteriorates to a series of posts). The caves above the path here are the Udabno monastery.
The most outstanding frescoes are about halfway along the hillside. Walk along until you reach some caves numbered with green paint. Seventy metres past cave 50, a side path heads up and back to cave 36, the monastery’s refectory, where the monks had to kneel to eat at low stone tables. It’s decorated with beautiful light-toned frescoes, the principal one being an 11th-century Last Supper. Further up above here are the Annunciation Church (cave 42), with very striking frescoes showing Christ and his disciples (you need some agility to get inside it), and St George’s Church (cave 41).
Return to the main path and continue 25m to the left to Udabno’s main church. Paintings here show Davit Gareja and his disciple Lukiane surrounded by deer, depicting the story that deer gave them milk when they were wandering hungry in this remote wilderness. Below them are Kakhetian princes.
The path eventually climbs to a stone chapel on the clifftop, then heads down back to where you began.