Shirak Tours, Gyumri
is small but pioneering outfit offering tours in the little-visited region of the same name, Shirak, in north-western Armenia
The company is run by the amiable and enthusiastic Alex Ter-Minasyan. And I can wholeheartedly recommend his services. I doubt you can find better in this remote corner of the Caucasus. His services are not normally geared towards dark tourist in particular (cultural/architectural heritage tours are the mainstream here too), but he can readily accommodate relevant special requests.
Alex proved extremely responsive in his correspondence in the planning stage and the immediate run-up to my grand Caucasus trip in the summer of 2010. On the ground he was also knowledgeable, full of extra suggestions and generally sparkled with a natural enthusiasm that was as entertaining as it was contagious.
He took me and my wife around Gyumri
providing a wealth of insights into the local culture and history – including the tragedy of the 1988 earthquake. In addition he drove us in a special 4x4 to various remote parts of the region, including such exotic spots as the Ani viewpoint & Iron Curtain
as well as to Spitak
. He even took us to the Spitak earthquake epicentre on an isolated hillside, which you'd never find on your own. I hadn't even known you could go there!
Alex's special interests include arts and archaeology, and thus he also took us to an archaeological dig site. The latter as a kind of detour en route to a supremely remote waterfall (where we went into the water!), which in turn was included en route to Spitak
. Furthermore we visited the home of a local artist, drove to some lesser-known architectural monuments such as the Yereruyk basilica (see Ani viewpoint
), and we made a detour to Vanadzor
– where Alex bought us lunch from his favourite bakery. So we got a lot more than just what I had requested. And his pricing policies I found very reasonable.
The company's base/office is in the Hotel Berlin (see Gyumri
), formerly the "Gästehaus Berlin", which was founded and funded by the German Red Cross Berlin branch – hence the name. They are still partner organizations. The hotel even has a "buddy bear" now to further underscore the Berlin
connection. Its newer name also bears the epithet "art hotel". This reflects Alex's artistic orientation. Moreover the hotel's corridors are adorned with various works of several local artists … and these works are for sale here too.
Alex is fluent in several languages, including English and German (as well as at least Armenian and Russian). I found that while he always used English in our written correspondence he preferred German in the spoken medium when I was there – but he's equally good at both languages in either medium.
Or go through the Berlin Art Hotel's website (see under partners): http://berlinarthotel.am
(external link – don't forget to check out that intro video!)
If you do book a tour with Shirak Tours then say that you've found them through dark-tourism.com (here's why