I’ve got nothing against wine tours, per se—they’ve got their thing and I’ve got mine—but, honestly, as a travel story, what more can one say? Sure, in the Penticton area of southern B.C., you can bike, kayak or even take a chopper to a winery—adding a smidge of variety to the typical driving tour—but, really, how many times can a person sip, swirl and spit with relentless delight?
Just when I thought there was nothing more to say about the 160-km-long, winery-rich Okanagan region, Penticton jabbed me with a new left hook with last summer’s opening of the contemporary Poplar Grove Winery and a first-ever GranFondo bike race. Suddenly—shazam!—I had to go back.
There are deserts and wineries all over the planet, but if you want a bucket list of adventures tacked on to fine wining and dining, few other places measure up. Penticton packs mile-long beaches, more than 1,000 rock climbing routes, rugged peaks in the 800- to 2500-metre range, two ski resorts, four golf courses (17 within a 45-minute drive alone) and absurdly good restaurants—oh yes, and some 53 wineries within a 20-minute drive—into a 17.2-square-mile area. Yet it gets a mere 1.5 million visitors a year.
Our bet? Not for long.
I have saluted the sun and the moon at outdoor yoga classes, but never a row of grapes. That is, until I joined a Yoga in the Vineyard class at Reflexions Studio. Outdoor yoga classes, zumba and Thai massage are just a few of the offerings at this funky space.
Jammed with organic veggies, crafts made from recycled wine barrels, Israeli jewelry, hippie-dippie folk-fest clothing, yummy raspberry galettes and coffee served in ceramic cups (finished mugs are dropped in various bins along Main Street)—this is a great place to load up your coolers with über-fresh produce. (Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.-noon, Main Street)
This wonderful 5,000 sq. ft. warren of musty rooms is piled high with second-hand books. Slouchy chairs, well-read staffers and an eclectic mix of titles that spans literary criticism to kid lit makes for the perfect spot to lose yourself. Also, it’s the go-to hub for DVDs and videos (with an inventory of 18,000).
Lunch at Il Vecchio Deli
Beat the back alley lineup at Il Vecchio Deli by 11 a.m., where 76-year-old Val Carloni and her team of granddaughters make up to 700 Italian sandwiches a day. You can’t go wrong with the four-meat, one-cheese lunch combo.
Built in 1929, the Elite Restaurant is a tribute to all things Elvis, including cases and cases of eye-popping kitsch. If liver and onions or turkey and the works is your thing, get thee to the Elite.
If you don’t have a tube or a shuttle vehicle, join Coyote Cruises which supplies everything but sunscreen on this one- to two-hour lazy float down the River Channel.
If you miss the July 8 GranFondo bike race, follow the 160-km route yourself, anytime. Other popular cycle routes include the nearby Kettle Valley Railway Trail and loops to umpteen vineyards and farms. The route along Giants Head Road to The Vinegar Works (stop in for a farm tour) and then Summerland Sweets (more samples), followed by the 12 wineries on Bottleneck Drive (pace yourself), is a gem.
Meet Tyler Harlton, the Okanagan Valley’s Renegade Winemaker
From prairie farm boy to pro athlete to Wall Street lawyer to renegade winemaker—Tyler Harlton’s life path has been anything but conventional. Now, at TH Wines in Summerland, B.C., Harlton employs old-world practices to create "handmade" wines.
British Columbia’s Best Wine Regions (and Where to Sip)
The Okanagan Valley is emerging as one of the world’s most exciting wine regions, thanks to its range of climates and terroirs. Meanwhile, the Thompson Valley’s Kamloops area is on the rise. Sip aromatic whites at the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival (Sept. 28 to Oct. 8) or Pinot Noir at Privato Vineyard & Winery in Kamloops.