Photograph by Catherine Karnow
A day in British Columbia's Thompson Okanagan region could begin in Canada's only true desert, include visiting a waterfall higher than Niagara (463-foot Helmcken Falls) or hiking in the planet's only inland temperate rain forest, and end with moonlit views of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
Visitors can also set a more leisurely pace, meandering along one of the Okanagan Valley's many wine trails. The 124-square-mile Thompson Okanagan region has more than 200 wineries. Nearly 30 are clustered near Kelowna on Okanagan Lake, a summer playground for boaters, boarders, and anglers and year-round "home" of the area's legendary lake monster, Ogopogo.
When to Go: The Okanagan Wine Festivals take place in spring, fall, and winter and feature vineyard tours, meals among the vines, and seminars with wine industry pros.
How to Get Around: Major centers are Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, and Osoyoos; you'll need a car if you want to visit more than one. Each city has a small downtown core that's easily explored on foot, by bike, or via BC Transit bus. Okanagan Wine Country Tours arranges single- and multiday winery visits, or you can cruise the region in the backseat of a 1956 Cadillac with Vintage Wine Tours.
Where to Stay: Sparkling Hill Resort owner Gernot Langes-Swarovski, of Swarovski crystal fame, used two million of the glimmering stones to create this sparkling resort. Its architecture glitters with crystals everywhere—hanging from the ceiling and embedded in the walls. The luxury resort's 149 ultrasleek guest rooms, designed to optimize the surrounding lake and mountain panoramas, feature sliding floor-to-ceiling window walls, crystal glass fireplaces, and walk-through showers with outdoor views.
Where to Eat or Drink: Perched on a hill in West Kelowna, Mission Hill Family Estate offers a tasting bar for sampling its award-winning wines and cellar tours with a sommelier. "[In the Okanagan], grape quality is ultimately enhanced by the vines' struggle to give forth ripe fruit in a shorter growing season," says Ingo Grady, the estate's director of wine education. "To some, it might seem miraculous that grapes can thrive here, but they do." Order the braised venison and figs at their alfresco restaurant, Terrace, and let the sommelier pair it with the perfect glass of wine.
What to Buy: In Osoyoos, shop for authentic First Nations art, including hand-carved masks and painted drums, at Coyote's Gifts in the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center, a First Nations museum with access to 50 acres of sage grassland trails.
What to Read Before You Go: Menus for an Orchard Table: Celebrating the Food and Wine of the Okanagan (Whitecap Books, 2007) has a collection of seasonal recipes prepared at the former Joie Farm Cooking School's (now JoieFarm Winery) acclaimed orchard dinners, plus essays about the Okanagan Valley's wine country cuisine.
Fun Fact: Downtown Vernon has one of the largest collections of outdoor art in Canada. The project, Vernon Murals, features 27 massive murals as large as five stories high and a block long that depict the city's history, culture, scenery, and folklore.
Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Celeste Moure has called Vancouver home for almost a decade. Celeste has written about food and wine, architecture, and travel for the Globe and Mail, En Route, Canadian Family, Travel+Leisure, and the Wall Street Journal. Follow her on Twitter.
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