With rolling hills covered in vines, a glittering lake some 110 kilometers long, and fields of fragrant lavender, the Okanagan Valley—just one hour’s flight from Calgary and Vancouver—is like a pastoral fantasy come to life. And for the vintners, farmers, and artisans who lovingly cultivate the Valley, farm-to-table isn’t a buzzword, it’s a way of life. From hard-core wine and food lovers arriving in time for the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival in October to adventure sport enthusiasts, fall offers equal draw for visitors of all stripes. In case you needed more reasons to explore beautiful British Columbia, here are five:
Head to Kelowna—the Valley’s cultural and dining center—for upscale eating experiences at Waterfront Wines, where Executive Chef/Sommelier Mark Filatow whips up fresh-from-the-farm dishes, like handmade potato and tarragon gnocchi, in an open-kitchen space, or have lunch al fresco on the terrace at The Cove or at Hotel El Dorado, both excellent choices for lakeside dining. Local Lounge, situated on Okanagan Lake in nearby Summerland, boasts inventive cuisine from chef Lee Humphries, and a truly local wine list: Distances from nearby vineyards are measured on the menu in kilometers.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss a stop at Arloâ€™s Honey Farm (call ahead for tours), where visitors can don beekeeping suits and get up close and personal with the bees (not to mention taste delicious honey straight off the comb).
Wine lovers can easily explore the wineries of the region on their own, or opt to follow a wine trail mapped out near Kelowna. Must-visits include the appellation’s standard-bearer, the striking, sophisticated Mission Hill, designed by renowned architect Tom Kundig (look for the bell tower set atop Mount Boucherie), where tastings can be highly personalized. The Legacy Tour, for $50CAD, includes a sommelier-led tour of the property and sips of 5 wines paired with 2 small bites.
Other wineries include family-friendly Sperling Vineyard, which serves doughnuts (yes, they can pair with wine) on Saturdays before 9 am, or try a visit to the chic, glass-walled tasting room at Tantalus Vineyard, whose portfolio of single vineyard wines has a boutique feel. Want to experience the best B.C. wines in one shot? The Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, held October 4-14, presents plenty of opportunities to sniff, swirl, and sip your way through over 200 wines at a host of events held during harvest time.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss lunch or dinner at the stunning Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill: Chef Matt Batey’s inventive, playful cuisine is meant to echo wine itself (and vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are available upon request).
The focal point of the Valley—and the reason for its agricultural bounty—is Okanagan Lake, surrounded at turns by dense forests of Ponderosa pines, sagebrush-dotted hills, and yes, a desert (the region’s hot summers can be explained in part by its proximity to a continuation of the Sonoran Desert that begins in Mexico). Wildlife enthusiasts can explore Okanagan Mountain Park and Myra Bellevue Park, where big horn sheep, bald eagles, and even black bears have been seen, or hike through miles of pristine wilderness.
Insider Tip: For those who'd rather simply take in the views—and nosh on local cheeses and fruit—beautiful sandy beaches and panoramic views make Okanagan Lake the perfect place for a picnic.
From ziplining to mountain biking, the Valley is a haven for adventure seekers. Canada’s highest zipline—at ZipZone Adventure Park—sends adrenaline junkies soaring some 381 feet over Deep Creek Canyon in Peachland. Want to go faster? Reaching speeds of up to 100 km/hour, visitors can rocket above breathtaking natural vistas in a Primal Swing at WildPlay Kelowna, located just 30 minutes by car from the city’s center. Mountain bikers will find something to love, too: The Okanagan Valley is widely regarded as one of the best mountain bike destinations in the world because of its developed network of trails and long biking season.
Insider Tip: Rose Valley, Crawford, Powers Creek, and MacDougal Rim are just a few areas to explore for riders of all levels, while Silver Star Mountain Resort provides 18 trails and a "bike lift".
Unique Spa Treatments
For the truly adventurous, consider braving a -110°C Cyrotherapy Cold Sauna, the first in North America, at KurSpa at the Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon, B.C. The treatment—which requires protective headbands, face masks, and gloves—is known to alleviate pain and assist with inflammation. At a spacious 40,000 square feet, KurSpa is the largest spa in Canada, offering 7 unique steam and sauna rooms along with some 100 spa treatments (the 90-minute Mud and Muscle incorporates heated Italian mud with massage to deeply relax back muscles).
Insider Tip: After getting the kinks worked out, stop by the Igloo room: Complete with cracking-ice sound effects and chilled to 10°C, its cold white marble tiles, peppermint and eucalyptus scents, and crushed ice from a fountain purportedly refresh and revitalize skin. Hey, this is Canada, after all.
Alexis Korman is a freelance wine, food, and travel writer based in New Orleans. She is also Contributing Food Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine and founder of a blog City City Bang Bang. Follow her on Twitter @lexisips
Photo credits: The Cove courtesy of Alexis Korman; Mission Hill wine tasting courtesy of Mission Hill; Lake Okanagan courtesy of Alexis Korman; Ziplining courtesy of www.tourismkelowna.com; Cold sauna courtesy of Sparkling Hill