Ditch Napa for the Okanagan Valley

1. Where to Stay

Hotel Eldorado is one of Kelwona's oldest lakefront properties.Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Eldorado

Feel at home at The Cove Lakeside Resort (from $239), where 150 neutral-hued suites come equipped with comfortable furniture, full living and dining rooms, kitchens, and balconies overlooking either Okanagan Lake, Okanagan Mountain, or the adjacent nut farm and gardens. Located in West Kelowna, the hotel is less than ten minutes away from the closest vineyards, and the concierge can arrange customized tours of the region’s wine estates.

Lounge on a massive sunroof and explore the lake with a boat rental from the on-site marina at Kelowna’s Hotel Eldorado (from $169). Though there’s a new addition to the hotel, ask for the sunny heritage wing, where rooms are decorated with tasteful antiques like claw-foot tubs and vintage radios that pay homage to the hotel’s 86-year history.

Enjoy the outdoors at Myra-Canyon Ranch, a secluded option at the base of the bike-friendly Kettle Valley Railway Trail. Part bed and breakfast, part dude ranch (horse rides are available), the property offers five modern, log-cabin-like rooms (from $135) with lofted ceilings, crisp white linens, and private decks, as well as two oversized tents (from $90) with full beds for those looking to camp with comfort.

2. Where to Eat

The Terrace at Mission Hill is among the top vineyard restaurants in the region.Photo: Peter Bond via Flickr

Peer out at the sweeping landscape from the Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill, an all-outdoors restaurant (open through October 7; reservations recommended) where herbs are grown in a kitchen-side garden, in which plants are organized according to the wine varietal they pair with best. The menu offers traditional Canadian wine country dishes, like tortellini filled with braised Alberta elk shank ($33), along with glasses of Mission Hill’s own award-winning Compendium blends and dessert icewine, a regional specialty that can only be made from grapes frozen on the vine.

Grab a seat by the fountain or fire pit on the patio at Cabana Bar & Grille, which serves a menu of global dishes made with regional ingredients to a trendy crowd on the waterfront. Choose from a wide range of options, like local wild-mushroom risotto fritters ($10.95) or coconut curry chicken ($17.95), and make selections from the extensive wine list including local award-winning bottles of Sandhill Estate’s Small Lots Viognier ($45) and Tantalus Vineyards’ Old Vines Riesling ($43).

Line up with Kelowna’s locavores at RauDZ Regional Table, a no-reservations neighborhood stalwart where you can order creative seasonal-inspired plates of venison carpaccio ($17) and oat-crusted Arctic char ($23). Last year, chef Rod Butters launched a line of canned and preserved goods made with locally grown produce, like blackberry ketchup and “drunken” cherries swimming in Sandhill Estate merlot, which you can take home from the restaurant.

3. What to Do

Vineyards producing dozens of grape varietals sit on the waterfront.Photo: Courtesy of Tourism Kelowna

Familiarize yourself with the region’s history of wine production before you start drinking at the BC Wine Museum, where exhibits and artifacts chart the industry’s small beginnings in the thirties to its current large-scale operations, which began in earnest in the seventies. Be sure to stop in at the well-stocked shop on the way out where many varietals are available for purchase.

Hit the road to explore some of the valley’s 130-plus vineyards. You can chart your own route or seek help from a concierge, but the self-guided Lake Country Scenic Sip Trail offers a particularly lovely three-mile drive through hilly farmland and ranches. Stop first at Ancient Hill Estate, with its Old World charm, to sample award-winning Pinot Noir. Move on to picnic-perfect Arrowleaf Cellars for a sip of clean, crisp Bacchus Riesling before heading to Ex Nihilo Vineyards, best known for its icewine. Finish your tour at Gray Monk Estate, one of the oldest Okanagan Valley wineries (it was founded in 1972), to sample their Chardonnay Unwooded, which is fermented entirely in stainless steel, instead of the usual oak, barrels.

Tap into the artistic inspiration the land inspires with the roving A Crush of Colour painting classes. Artist and instructor Jennifer Pickering sets up shop at different picturesque wineries in the region and leads three-hour workshops for painters of all levels to create landscapes in the style of the masters. The September series, the last of this season, will be held at Arrowleaf Cellars.

4. Insider’s Tip

Carmelis doesn't require visitors to make appointments to sample their cheeses.Photo: Courtesy of Carmelis Goat Cheese

Though there are a number of small food producers in the region, the best one to visit on a whim is Carmeli’s Goat Cheese Artisan. Tours are available for groups of eight or more, but smaller groups and solo travelers can visit without arranging anything in advance to see the farm and taste unlimited samples. Afterward, you can bring a pint of their goat-milk gelato to nearby Bertram Park, a low-key lakefront oasis with secluded beaches and towering pines.

5. Oddball Day

The Mission Creek Greenway is a seven-mile loop that winds through canyons and forest.Photo: Courtesy of Tourism Kelowna

Take a break from wine to experience Kelowna’s great outdoors. Grab breakfast downtown at Gio Bean Espresso (1340 Water Street; 250-868-2992), then head to Hotel El Dorado’s marina to rent a boat—anything from Seadoos (from $79/hour) to kayaks (from $20/hour)—for exploring 136-square-mile Okanagan Lake. Once you’re back on land, drive a mile and a half inland for lunch at the down-home Pioneer Country Market at Sperling Vineyards, where on Saturdays you can eat the popular spudnuts (savory doughnuts made with potato flakes), as well as a changing selection of soups and freshly made pies and cakes. Afterward, head two miles south to Arlo’s Honey Farm (book an appointment in advance) to see the bees at work and sample honey for dessert. Return to the lakefront and stop at the Lakefront Sports Center at the Delta Grand Resort to rent a mountain cruiser bike (from $20). Pedal a mile and a half north on Ellis Street to the Knox Mountain Trail, a steep route with great views of the lake below. (For a less strenuous ride, cruise through the Mission Creek Greenway, a seven-mile loop that starts in the center of the city and winds through canyons and hoodoos.) Drop off the bike and end your night with Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches ($8.95 to $15.95) and live music at The Grateful Fed Pub on Bernard Avenue, downtown’s main drag.

6. Links

Find reviews of the area wineries on the official Okanagan Wines site.

Okanagan Wine Festivals lists events held at wineries in spring and fall.

Community-run ilovekelowna.com has local reviews and listings for restaurants, shopping, outdoor activities, and more.

Kelowna’s Juicy Tips offers what it promises with insider info on casual topics like the local ice cream scene and special events on weekends.

Ditch Napa for the Okanagan Valley