“ There are moments, above all on June evenings, when the lakes that hold our moons are sucked into the earth, and nothing is left but wine and the touch of a hand.” – Charles Morgan
Our hotel, the Best Western Plus (a pretty Cali-style complex) just off the main artery, Highway 97, was a welcome sight nestled below some lovely hills near many familiar restaurants and stores. The room we checked into was quite large with a small terrace outside the sliding glass doors beside a refreshing expanse of plush green grass creating a courtyard effect. A large birch tree, some shapely cedar bushes, and beds of dark purple iris added to the secret garden feel – our own cool oasis to retreat to each afternoon to escape the dry heat and blazing sun.
The four days we spent in Kelowna went fast, there was the lakeshore to explore on day one – we parked the car near downtown to wander by the teal coloured water of Okanagan Lake and take in the sun. The many benches facing the lake were prime real estate but we eventually found some cement seating placed around a sculpture of a large white sail by the marina – with the khaki coloured hills before us and the very blue sky crisscrossed with contrails from the many airplanes coming and going, we settled in to inhale the sublime view. Tourists and locals alike provided a never-ending parade for us to watch on the boardwalk at our feet until it was time to leave in search of lunch. The hotel provided a breakfast buffet for its guests each morning in a bright, airy space near the indoor pool and I indulged in fragrant cups of English Breakfast tea, freshly cooked cheesy omelettes with crisp hash browns and a mini croissant along with a variety of fresh fruit and juices – a wonderful way to greet the day and make plans for that days’ adventure including lunch even after a big breakfast!
Kelowna, one of many cities and towns located in the Okanagan Valley is known for its many wineries, orchards, and farms, sitting in an area that shares its geography with the Sonoran desert of the United States of America – the scent of sagebrush in the air quite different from the lush cedar notes of the lower mainland. Day two found us, maps in hand, eagerly setting out to visit one of the wine trails in the area, there was clear signage and we settled on the Lakeshore Drive route where some of the oldest vineyards are located. After a steady climb with a stomach-dropping view to the lake on one side and blackened forest limbs scattered on the hills to the left, we kept on the road until we hit a dead end. The beauty of the lake was mesmerizing and when we turned around we stopped at a small provincial park, stepping outside to breathe in air that still carried the story of the devastating fire from 2003. Our only companion, a lone raven calling from tree to tree as we walked among freshly fallen pine cones lying on the gravel parking lot. I wanted to stay and luxuriate in this wild place but there were wineries waiting for us down the road.
First up, was the wine estate of St. Hubertus and Oak Bay (st-hubertus.bc.ca), a modest looking winery that we might have overlooked had we not driven up to its prime location high above the lake – as we made our way into a parking spot and stepped out ready to explore, a tiny brown tabby cat came ambling towards us from one of the outbuildings, talking away and keeping close, to our great surprise, she walked with us until we reached the estate’s gift shop and wine tasting counter. Once we arrived, she stretched out on the cool ground, her work complete, to bask in our wonder and attention. As I took in the pastoral atmosphere, I felt like I had stepped into a corner of French countryside – leafy green trees shading a table and chairs faced the vineyard with an old truck left nearby that was destroyed by that same 2003 fire, not only was there wine tasting to sample here but one could learn about and touch the history surrounding this 80 acre vineyard owned by the Gebert family since 1984. In no time at all, we were called up into the dusty vineyard by one of the sisters who own the estate – she was teaching a few workers to move through the new growth on the trimmed back branches to pick off any withered leaves and wanted to give us a close up! Another sister greeted us and upon hearing our praises of the tiny tabby, introduced us to September, who becomes a little sad in the winter after wine season finishes. It was too early in the day for wine tasting so we purchased a bottle or two of their delicious wine at the gift store to enjoy later back in Vancouver.
Our next stop was the Summerhill Pyramid Winery (summerhill.bc.ca), the largest certified organic winery in the region, recommended as a perfect spot for picture taking as there is a very large marble-white pyramid on site, an example of sacred geometry adding its own cachet to the peaceful setting. There was no friendly September greeting, so we bid farewell to the stunning view for a proper wine tasting at Tantalus Vineyards (tantalus.ca), in their gallery-style tasting room with the words from their business card setting the stage…be tempted! The only winery to be LEED certified, their sleek setting sits among other-worldly vineyards and quirky art installations, as I write this post, I’m sipping on their chilled rose…
Day three found us lakeside sharing a decadent date square while tucked into the popular Bliss Bakery in the tiny hamlet of Peachland, just across from the boardwalk, which we later walked as loons surfaced from the azure water. Summer-like weather still dazzled our eyes as well as a lush shell-pink Dogwood tree on a nearby property facing the lake. Before we left this lakeside retreat we drove along the lakeshore drinking in the scenery and lifestyle of Peachlands’ residents – many take their camp chairs down to the edge of the lake to take in the changing sky and water.
Our last tasty breakfast on day four sent us on our way leaving me with a myriad of images – the pair of beautiful magpies tending to their young one hidden in the cedar bush, grunting softly each time we sat in the cool outside our hotel room, the riot of purple lilac growing wild everywhere eyes could see and the soft green of the hills cradling spring before true summer arrives to claim us all.