By AJ Williams
If you’ve never been to British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, you’re missing a place where breathtaking vistas await at every turn. This part of Canada truly has it all: amazing cities (Cosmopolitan Vancouver, very ‘British’ Victoria & more), the Pacific Ocean, stunning snow-capped mountains, lakes, prairies, and another thing that may surprise you: world-class wine! (Hint: It’s NOT icewine!)
The province is vast, and you should really allocate a few weeks for a proper visit, but since we’re focused on ‘quick trips’ – we’ll highlight just one region for this article: The Okanagan Valley. It’s Canada’s warmest area – in summer, it might surprise you to know it can often get up to 100 degrees (35 degrees C), but the southern part of this region is actually a desert, right along the Washington State border, so it’s a wonderful, dry heat. And if you want to cool off, just dip into one of the many lakes nearby!
Imagine taking Lake Tahoe and dropping it in the middle of the Napa Valley. That pretty much describes the Okanagan Valley. Lake Okanagan (90 miles long stretching from the city of Vernon in the north to the smaller town of Penticton in the south) is warm in summer, with active boating, water skiing, swimming and just enjoying the warm breezes. In winter, you can ski or snowboard one of the local mountains which are renowned for their powder (Big White, SilverStar, Apex and SunPeaks are all nearby).
When many folks think of Canada and wine, only one type comes to mind: Ice Wine. While the best in the world is perhaps made in colder-climate Ontario, British Columbia’s weather is milder, and while some years, mother nature does allow for some of that silky, sweet dessert-in-a-glass in this region, the area is a hidden gem for amazing (and surprising!) bold reds and refreshing whites. The latitude of the South Okanagan is almost the same as that of Bordeaux, France, so it’s not surprising that the wine in this little-known region is so good! There are some of the nicest Meritage blends (non-French Bordeaux blends) around. Many of the area’s 200+wineries feature beautiful settings, views, fine dining and wonderful entertainment (think Tony Bennett or Gypsy Kings at an outdoor amphitheater under the stars at Mission Hill Winery with the vineyards and Lake Okanagan in the background!). Sir Elton John hangs out here, as do many other celebrities as it’s a natural, beautiful, playground with no shortage of luxurious amenities and activities.
Nearby Quail’s Gate is also fabulous. Their Old Vines Restaurant has a lovely patio with a great view!
If you’ve gotten over the trauma of the Sideways movie, and are now willing to admit you love a great Merlot, this wine region just might be your new favorite! The warm days and slightly cooler evenings are perfect for growing this grape. The region is also very good at bubbles!
For foodies, the valley is world-class! Because of the incredible fruits & vegetables in the area, chefs are giddy most days with the options they have for epicurean creations! Several culinary events are held here because of the bounty of local ingredients.
In Kelowna, the region’s largest city (population 140,000), we recommend you stay at the Delta Grand Okanagan resort (right on the lake), and dine at one of several fabulous restaurants downtown, including Waterfront Wines, La Bussola, or Raudz.
Mission Hill Estate Winery (perfectly perched high on a hilltop looking over Lake Okanagan) has fabulous food at The Terrace all summer if dining al fresco is your thing. Wineries nearby include Summerhill (organic) and Tantalus (their Riesling will blow your mind), along with Wayne Gretzky’s wine, right downtown!
Wineries in the South part of the Okanagan valley also showcase wine and food that are world class. Visit Poplar Grove winery in amazing Penticton (a small city nestled in a valley between two lakes, Okanagan and Skaha), and have lunch at The Vanilla Pod restaurant there, before you venture to the Naramata Bench, a unique wine route gaining international recognition. Hop on your bicycle, and pedal along the Kettle Valley Railway trail, stopping at some amazing wineries to sip & savor along the way (some of our favorites were La Frenz, Laughing Stock and Lake Breeze).
This area is famous for cycling and triathlon (Granfondo and Ironman have called this area home for years) and it’s no wonder, with world-class trails and events throughout the summer.
Heading south from Penticton, don’t miss Painted Rock (their Red Icon meritage is like velvet on your tongue), and then head south toward Oliver and Osoyoos. There are dozens of wineries in the area to enjoy, so you’ll need to pace yourself.
If you have 7 days or less for a ‘QuickTripTo’ the Okanagan Valley, we recommend you fly into Kelowna (YLW), and spend a night at Sparkling Hill, an incredible spa/wellness resort just north of Kelowna – it’s stunning, and will get you into the relaxed vibe of the valley (the hotel is owned by the Swarovsky crystal family!) Be sure to stop at Gray Monk winery along the way for a tasting and lunch.
Then spend 2 nights back in Kelowna, enjoy a great walk along the lakefront boardwalk, take a lake cruise, and enjoy some fine dining. There are some excellent wineries in this area too, and lots of wine tour operators to help you navigate the day! Then head south – we’d recommend 2 nights at the Penticton Lakeside Resort (the Saturday morning market from April to October is a huge open air market with local produce, artisans, food trucks and wine tasting) , and visit some of the local wineries. Then head to Oliver for a night at Burrowing Owl winery & guest house, and finally back to Kelowna for a night at Manteo Resort (also on the lake in Kelowna), before flying home.
I’m a big fan of September travel due to the ease of getting around, lack of family traffic and still warm weather), but if you like the heat, mid-August is a pretty sure weather bet. If you golf, this area is a mecca, with several courses (Predator Ridge is right beside Sparkling Hill resort, and the links are legendary) throughout the region. In Oliver, Fairview Mountain is a challenging course with incredible views, conveniently located near some of the best wineries in the region, so you can celebrate with a toast after your round!
Get ready to be surprised when you plan a ‘QuickTripTo’ British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Make this the year you decide to visit a lesser-known wine region (and leave room because you’ll want to bring some home!). Cheers!
If you go: