Elephant Island Winery // © 2011 Janeen Christoff
Dirty Laundry Vineyards // © 2011 Janeen Christoff
Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre // © 2011 Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre
Poplar Grove Cheese // © 2011 Janeen Christoff
KVR Railway // © 2011 Janeen Christoff
Manning Provincial Park Lodge // © 2011 Janeen Christoff
Tickleberrys // © 2011 Trent Smith
The Okanagan Valley, British Columbia’s arid wine region, offers a wealth of activities for travelers. Visitors to British Columbia often focus their travels in and around Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Victoria. For a first-time visit, this is a great way to experience B.C.’s culture and local flavor. However, the Okanagan’s climate is drier and milder than the province’s coastal region and is ideal for farming and grape growing. Numerous vineyards and orchards dot the fertile landscape, which is further accented by towering mountains and crystal clear lakes.
Day 1: Osoyoos
When heading to the Okanagan Valley by car from Vancouver, a must-stop is Manning Provincial Park Lodge. Located along Highway 3, the scenic park provides a stunning backdrop for the drive to the Okanagan. The lodge is located directly off the highway and is a convenient place for a break about halfway through the drive. Its lush meadow is perfect for a picnic, and there is also a gift shop, clean restrooms and the Pinewood Dining Room, serving soups, sandwiches, salads and more. If you are traveling with children, there is a playground and, inside the dining room, there is also a small play area where kids can continue their playtime while parents enjoy a quiet meal.
As travelers continue toward the Okanagan Valley, they will pass through Keremeos, which is about an hour’s drive from Manning Provincial Park Lodge. This is a great place to stop for a short snack. We headed to the Crowsnest Woodfire Oven Bakery, which features excellent coffee, pastries and cookies. If you head farther up the road, you will also pass by the Crowsnest Winery, a great place to get in the first wine tasting of the trip.
Once you arrive in the Okanagan Valley, head to Osoyoos and the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa is an ideal location. Overlooking the shores of Osoyoos Lake, the lodge features wine tasting, fine dining, golf and more. Accommodation is in sophisticated condo-style rooms with one, two or three bedrooms. We stayed in a two-bedroom suite with a full kitchen, two full baths, a view of the lake and a large dining room and living area.
If you arrive early enough, a pre-dinner wine tasting is a great way to begin the evening. Nk’Mip (pronounced ink-a-meep) Cellars is an aboriginal-owned and operated winery dedicated to crafting Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines. Its spacious tasting room is located next to the reception area and restaurant and overlooks the lake.
The resort is rather isolated from the town, so rather than drive to dinner, I suggest heading to the resort’s fine-dining restaurant, Passatempo. The rustic decor and panoramic views of the lake, vineyards and desert create a relaxing atmosphere while guests enjoy the bistro-style restaurant. On the menu are a variety of regional items that the restaurant calls “wine-country comfort food” made from fresh, local ingredients.
Day 2: Summerland
While wineries dot the region, there are many things to do in the Okanagan that don’t revolve around wine. For the culturally inclined, a visit to the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre presents the perfect opportunity to learn about the aboriginal people that have occupied the land for centuries. The center is built into a hillside and features terrific views of the southern Okanagan Valley. Guests are immersed in the Okanagan First Nation’s habitation with on-site tours of a traditional village, a performing arts theater, water gardens and interactive displays. The tour is a great way to learn about the people, their villages and their land. My favorite part of the visit was the two video presentations, which really brought to life the culture of the First Nations people.
After a visit to the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, it’s time to head to Summerland. Since I was touring the region with my family, it was suggested that we make a pit stop along the way at Tickleberry’s Ice Cream in Okanagan Falls. While this recommendation was certainly due to the fact that we were traveling with children, I would recommend a stop here for anyone who likes sweets. The family-owned establishment opened in 1990 and serves homemade ice cream, chocolates, fudge kettle corn and more. Beware, the cones are enormous — and delicious. I can’t recommend any flavor over another, but I can suggest getting a candy-coated waffle cone.
While the drive to Summerland isn’t long, another great place to stop is in Penticton at the Penticton & Wine Country Visitor Centre & B.C. VQA. This is one of the few places where visitors can see and purchase the majority of B.C. VQA wines in the region, and it’s also a great place to get acquainted with the surrounding wineries. The staff here is very helpful and can tailor recommendations to the wineries that are of the most interest to each visitor’s preferences. You can also do a tasting at the center, as well.
From the visitor center, visitors can stop at a couple of wineries or simply head to Summerland, just a short drive away. If wine tasting, I definitely recommend heading to Naramata’s Bench. This area is home to a legion of local vineyards but also offers stunning views of Okanagan Lake. A visit to any of the wineries here is not only punctuated by mouthwatering varietals, but enhanced by the lush landscape and beautiful vistas in the warm, arid climate. A visit to Poplar Grove Cheese, where visitors can pair wines with handmade cheeses, is an ideal stop, as is the Elephant Island winery. Elephant Island is a family-owned fruit orchard and produces several types of fruit wines – including my favorite Okanagan discoveries, Pink Elephant champagne made from orchard fruits.
After a few sips of bubbly at Elephant Island, its best to head to Summerland Waterfront Resort Hotel, check-in and relax. My suggestion would be a dip in its heated pool or sharing a glass of wine with guests in the hot tub. Located on Okanagan Lake, the resort hotel is in the heart of the wine region. More than 75 percent of its guestrooms have views of the lake, and all suites come with full kitchens, dining and living room areas, fireplaces and soaking tubs.
Our one-bedroom suite had ample space for my husband and I as well as our two children. And having a kitchen in which to cook breakfast or dinner made the trip even more relaxing. One of our fondest memories was, after visiting several wineries and orchards, preparing and eating all of our purchases, from homemade cheeses and fresh apples to fruit wine and sweets. We loved sitting on our balcony, overlooking the lake, and sampling our tasty discoveries.
However, if in-room dining is not your clients’ cup of tea, head to the Hooded Merganser Restaurant, located in Penticton, or Local Lounge & Grill, which is next door to the hotel. Both restaurants are one of the few in the area that offer lakeview dining.
Day 3: Around Town
While you could spend weeks trying to visit all of the regions unique wineries, the next day, we took a break from wine-tasting and spent the day taking advantage of some of the activities around town. We started off with a ride on a historic railway, the Kettle Valley Steam Railway (KVR). The KVR is a unique part of the Okanagan’s and B.C.’s transportation history. Built between 1910-1915 as an economic necessity to the coast, visitors ride on the only preserved section of the historic railway that includes 11 miles of vistas and a journey through orchards and vineyards to a view of Okanagan Lake from the Trout Creek Trestle Bridge, 80 meters above the canyon floor. The 1912 Steam Locomotive brings the era alive as visitors ride in a vintage passenger coach. The trip is great for children, and one of the best parts was playing train bingo and spotting all the different sites listed on our bingo card.
After the train ride, we headed to town for lunch at Victoria Road. Both a deli and a restaurant, Victoria Road features fresh, local cuisine, including sandwiches, pastas and salads.
Afterward, one suggestion is to spend some time out on the lake. We headed back to the resort to Summerland Waterfront Resort Boat Rentals, which offers a fleet of watercraft, including Katana and Malibu boats, Crest Pontoon boats, waverunners, kayaks, canoes and pedal boats. After a brief orientation about safety features, visitors can head to Manitou Park in Naramata directly across the lake or Sun-Oka Park just down the lake or the Penticton Lakeside Resort. Each location offers nice beaches and shady areas. Watching the sunset from your boat is a great way to wrap up a visit to the Okanagan.
Day 4: Leaving Town
Even though it’s the day of departure, a visit to the Okanagan Valley would not be complete without visiting one last vineyard. On the way out, my recommendation is to head to Dirty Laundry Vineyards. Certainly one of the most unique wineries in town, Dirty Laundry has a checkered past that is sure to entice visitors to at least stop in to learn its history, if not to sample its unique wine. This was one of my favorite tastings; I think that I liked everything on the list. After purchasing a bottle of Bordeaux, we headed back to the highway and returned to Vancouver knowing that none of our wine would make it across the border, sadly. It was so good, that it would probably be gone before we left the country.