Scroll down to read about more activities and where to stay in the Okanagan Valley.
Napa North: Sipping the day away in the Okanagan Valley and the Naramata wine region
Known as Napa North, British Columbia’s fertile Okanagan Valley is becoming internationally famous for its rolling vineyards and wines. More than 120 wineries invite visitors for free tours and tastings — wine route signs on the roads point the way. When the grapes are harvested during the annual Okanagan Fall Wine Festival (Oct. 1-11), the valley is in full swing with special wine dinners and celebrations.
The Okanagan Valley may be the most lively in October, but it is a popular respite year-round. From spring to fall, swimming and boating in Lake Okanagan and other pristine, warm-water lakes draw in visitors from all over. Golf, too, is a prime attraction, as the valley plays host to approximately 40 golf courses.
Kelowna, with a population of 100,000, is nestled in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, a four-hour drive from Vancouver, British Columbia. Kelowna International Airport is serviced by direct daily flights from Seattle, Vancouver and Calgary, Alberta.
A great holiday option for clients is to spend a few days enjoying Kelowna-area attractions such as wineries, a lavender farm, golf courses, a cheese farm etc., then driving south one hour to Naramata for another two or three days.
The 10-mile Naramata Bench — A bucolic strip of countryside hugging Lake Okanagan — is sprinkled with 22 estate wineries and guesthouses. The most exquisite place to stay is Apple D’Or, a huge log country home featuring three gorgeous suites with Persian rugs, private terraces with fountains, fireplaces, galley kitchens and lake views.
I quit ogling the panoramic views of the lush vineyards and shimmering waters of British Columbia’s Lake Okanagan and focused on ordering lunch.
“Go with the Reserve Chardonnay,” suggested our friendly server.
We were seated at Mission Hill Family Estate’s outdoor terrace restaurant, recently voted one of the top five winery restaurants in the world by Travel + Leisure.
Chardonnay is the winery’s flagship white wine. The 1992 vintage helped put Canadian wines on the map when it won Best Chardonnay Worldwide in a blind taste test at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London in 1994.
Mission Hill Family Estate in Western Canada // © 2009 Janice Mucalov
It wasn’t just the food and wine that drew us to the winery, however. The whole Tuscan-like estate is eye-popping, from the rose gardens leading to its massive arched entrance and 12-story bell tower to the underground cellars and museum-style reception room with a Marc Chagall tapestry.
Mission Hill is undoubtedly Western Canada’s showcase winery, and it’s a top attraction when staying at the new Cove Lakeside Resort in the Okanagan Valley, known as “Napa North.”
The upscale, condominium-style resort, which opened in late 2006, has 150 one- to three-bedroom suites ranging in size from 931 to 2,381 square feet. All bedrooms have in-suite bathrooms with lovely Italian Acca Kappa toiletries, and each suite features a full kitchen with granite countertops. There’s even a wine fridge for storing all those bottles clients will surely buy when touring Mission Hill and other surrounding wineries.
The decor is sophisticated — camel suede-upholstered living room furniture, cream carpets and white duvets covering super-comfy beds (master bedrooms boast king-size mattresses). But the ambience in summer is casual. That’s when families flock to the resort to splash about in the pool, swim in the warm lake and rent speedboats with a wakeboard instructor from the resort’s 50-slip marina. (I suspect those nice cream carpets aren’t the best for family use though; they’re already showing some wear.)
For a little pampering, there’s a pleasant spa with four treatment rooms for body wraps, massage and facials, plus a lake-view manicure/pedicure room. And a Bikram (hot yoga) studio offers a good workout for a fee.
One night, we tried the resort’s Bonfire Restaurant and Bar for dinner. It serves up tasty, sun-inspired dishes like Santa Fe baby back ribs with peanut and chipotle chili sauce in a relaxed atmosphere. Good local wines by the glass (including Mission Hill’s Reserve Chardonnay) are also on the menu.
Near the city of Kelowna, the Cove’s location is particularly attractive. As well as being close to Mission Hill, it’s also only a few minutes’ drive from Quail’s Gate Estate Winery and its lovely vineyard restaurant (open year-round). Next door is the Gellatly Nut Farm Regional Park with 100-year-old heritage nut trees. And there’s a great lakeside walking trail just outside the resort, which meanders past a replica of an old railway dock once used to transport the Okanagan’s bountiful fruit.