Where: Okanagan Valley, Kelowna, British Columbia
Nestled in the interior British Columbia and credited for its breathtaking mountain ranges, pristine pine forests and its infamous 68-mile Okanagan Lake, the Valley is located at the northern most end of the Sonora Desert, which attributes a climate of long warm summers and short mild winters. Kelowna, the largest local community (with a population of only 145,000) is situated midway through the valley and is a mish-mash of small town charms and urban city sophistication.
The vibe: Casual, comforting and laid back; that's life in the Okanagan. Kelowna offers a variety of activities that appeal to a wide range of people. Whether you're relaxing beachside in the summer taking in the waterskiing, fishing or windsurfing or skiing some incredible turns on the mountains come wintertime, this hidden retreat provides seasonal fun year round. Looking for your culture-fix? Then go no farther than the Cultural District which covers a six-block radius of downtown and features incredible galleries, museums, theatres and, a personal favourite, the historic Laurel Packinghouse(www.KelownaMuseums.ca). Built in 1917, it is the home to the BC Orchard Industry Museum and the VQA wine shop where you can peruse – and sample! -- some of Canada's finest locally-produced wines.
For fragrant fields beyond the wineries, go visit the Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm (www.okanaganlavender.com). Stroll through fantastical lavender fields that house over 60 varieties or better yet, pop into their quaint gift shop to check out their soaps, body creams and luxurious essential oils.
Where to stay: Just blocks away from downtown and Lake Okanagan, The Coast Capri Hotel (www.coasthotels.com) is an inviting respite that offers cozy accommodations and exceptional dining. The renowned Vintage Room is a must for a dinner reservation. Feast on delectable fresh seafood entrees while sipping on a mouth-watering Pinot Gris harvested within the Valley. Take a dip in their outdoor pool, or splurge by visiting their in-house Beyond Wrapture Spa (www.beyondwrapture.ca) where you and your loved one can indulge in a Vinotherapy treatment where red or white wine is blended with grape-seed oil and Shea butter for one luxurious massage.
Where to shop: Slip on a pair of comfortable flats and peruse the many chic boutiques downtown Kelowna has to offer. If you're looking to stay on-trend and take a stylish piece of fashion home with you, head to Blonde (293 Bernard Ave., Kelowna, BC; www.blondestore.com). Owner Raegan Hall fills her hip little shop with funky, original finds from Canadian labels like Gentle Fawn, Lifetime Collective and Honeydew. Plus, don't forget to nab a few of their oh-so-cool accessories or handbags. A girl can never have enough!
Don't let the generic name fool you: the Downtown Shoe Store (459 Bernard Ave., Kelowna, BC; 250-762-2743) is full of unique and stylish footwear worthy of your pedicure. From the less-expensive, but still fashion forward Franco Sartos to the super-sexy Calvin Kleins, you'll be walking Kelowna in style.
For a distinct and memorable shopping experience, you have to visit A Pure Shade (1561 Ellis St., Kelowna, BC; www.apureshade.com); a stained glass art gallery that houses some extraordinary local handcrafted jewelry, house accessories and glassware. With everything created on-site, you can customize a piece to your tastes.
Where to eat: When in the Okanagan you are really not at a loss for incredible cuisine. A must? The Kelowna Farmers' and Crafters' Market. Boasting over 150 stands, you can browse through booths selling anything from fresh baked goods to locally harvested fruits and vegetables- a great start to your morning! Open Saturday and Wednesday 8am-1pm, and Thursdays 4pm-8pm. (www.kelownafarmersandcraftersmarket.com)
For a quick bite, head to Carmelis Goat Cheese Farm (www.carmelisgoatcheese.com), a family-owned boutique dairy with 70 goats and over 20 varieties of cheeses. Nibble on Chevry Dill & Onion, Feta or the mouth-watering Smoked Carmel infused with hickory oil. Delicious! For desert, ask the owner, Ofri, for a sample of her Goat Milk Gelato. You won't be disappointed.
For those that may indulge in one too many wine tours, take refuge at The Bohemian Café (524 Bernard Ave., Kelowna, BC; 250-862-3517) for a feel good breakfast. Known as the "Boh" to locals, the décor -- part old-school diner, part home kitchen comfort -- will make you feel at ease instantly; notwithstanding the mouth-watering options on their menu: Start your morning right with a Mimosa of Summerhill champagne and fresh grapefruit juice and then head straight to the Blueberry Oatmeal pancakes toped with icing sugar and real maple syrup.
Waterfront Wines (103-1180 Sunset Drive, Kelowna BC. 250-979-1222), a chic restaurant wine bar in downtown Kelowna is well known for its fun, urban setting as for its exceptional fare. Acknowledged by Wine Spectator magazine for an "Award of Excellence" in 2006, the menu, created by Chef and Sommelier Mark Filatow presents gourmet dishes complimented by appropriate wine-pairings. Their prawn and vegetable spring rolls with basil pesto aioli is a must starter with a chilled glass of Viognier from the Kettle Valley Winery. Follow that with their apple basted Berkshire pork rack with celery root mash and creamed cabbage and a Quails Gate Pinot Noir. Reasonably priced, this is a hot spot you'll book a reservation to more than once over your stay.
Click on Page 2 for details on the Okanagan wine tour
The wine tour...
Mission Hill family estate (www.missionhillwinery.com)
One of the Okanagan's truly brilliant settings, Mission Hill is a sophisticated winery that offers some of Canada's most notable varietals. Winemaker John Simes, originally a Chief Winemaker with New Zealand's Montana Wines, joined the estate in 1992 partway through harvest to work on the Grand Reserve Barrel Select Chardonnay. Incidentally, that wine took home the IWSC (International Wine and Spirit Competition) trophy for best Chardonnay. Named the “Winery of the Year” again in 2007 at the Canadian Wine Awards, Mission Hill is considered the crème-de-la-crème of the Canadian wine region.
Worth sipping: Termed as "appellation" wines (because they are cultivated in a semi-desert climate from grapes grown in the appellation's five growing regions), swirl, sniff and sip on their refreshing fruity Pinto Grigio, a unoaked bouquet with hints of vibrant fruits and tamarillo. Or, opt for their signature Bordeaux-inspired Oculus – a velvety blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Robust and smooth in texture, this wine is simply extraordinary.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery (www.summerhill.bc.ca)
Canada's most visited winery and largest certified organic vineyard, Summerhill is the antithesis of Mission Hill. Eclectic, elegant and highly amusing, the winery has won numerous accolades for its sparkling wine and Icewine. Most interesting is that all Summerhill wines are aged in a Pyramid (on-site) built according to the ratios of Sacred Geometry and its 1/16 the size of the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Owner Steve Cipes – an affable and lovely New Yorker – has an educated staff who will take you on a tour of the Pyramid cellar to view the barrels of his oft-recognized wines.
After you are well satiated with their tastings, you must have dinner at the Summerhill Bistro. Directly above the wineries vineyard with panoramic views, executive chef Jesse Croy prepares sumptuous feasts like their antipasto platters with local Artisan cheeses, free-range meats and fresh seafood from the West Coast. Luck was on my side while visiting as I had dinner bar-side (complete with white linen table clothes and plenty of open bottles) with Steve Cipes himself.
Worth sipping: Try the Popular 2006 Estate Gewurztraminer; a classic floral with notes of rose petal and orange blossoms and the Cipes Brut N/V sparkling wine; a luscious Riesling with aromatic suggestions of lime, pear and grapefruit – a perfect acknowledgment of a traditional sparkling wine – in the most untraditional of conventions.
CedarCreek Estate Winery (www.cedarcreek.bc.ca)
Having won the highly acclaimed title of “Winery of the Year” in the Canadian Wine Awards twice (2002 and 2005), you would be remiss not to add this winery on your itinerary. Family owned and operated by the Fitzpatrick family who founded CedarCreek in 1986, it now produces over 30,000 cases of premium wines each year. Beyond it being the idyllic location for a wedding or special function (the views of the Valley and Lake are awe-inspiring!), the winery proudly employs Tom Di Bello, a connoisseur straight from the Mecca of wine creation: Napa, California. As such, the selection is fine, indeed.
Worth sipping: Why not try one of the wines in the year CedarCreek was awarded the “Winery of the Year”? The 2005 Platinum Reserve Pinot Noir is a complex arrangement of coffee and spice. If the notes don't register on your palate, fear not. The winery is occupied by several talented experts who are more than willing to educate you on the different varietal flavours. The 2005 Estate Select Syrah, although sold-out at press time, is a verdant
French, oak-inspired wine with an intense nose of blackberries.
Quail's Gate Winery (www.quailsgate.com)
Smaller than the other wineries but no less impressive, Quail's Gate is a boutique-style winery that is at once homey as it is dynamic. Open year round, it has been in the business of making consistently good Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs since the first vines were planted on the land back in 1961.
Worth sipping: From the Family Reserve grouping, sample the Pinot Noir that is a rich blend of the very best barrels of 4 separate batches. Because it spends almost a year aging in Burgundian oak barrels, the finish is soft and silky. Reminisce on your time spent in the Okanagan by taking a bottle of this home; it ages beautifully in 5-8 years. Quails' Gate Chasselas-Pinot Blanc is a perfect summertime cocktail. Light and sweet it is most certainly worthy of your next patio party.
For more on Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley, please visit: www.tourismkelowna.ca
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