Watersports, Wineries and Golf Reign in Canada’s Southern Okanagan Valley
From a patio next to a hillside vineyard, my wife and I watch two Sea-Doos skim across the long, skinny lake below as the sun climbs high into a cloudless blue sky. A soothing New Age melody from a flute, pumped in over the sound system, lulls us into a sense of calm as we nibble on locally cured meats and cheeses. The buttery texture of brie unveils crisp apple notes in the pinot blanc that was made a few hundred yards away. These pleasing sensations, which feel like a spa treatment for our taste buds, are coming together a stone’s throw north of the Washington border, on a summer road trip to Osoyoos, British Columbia.
The Lake Life
At the southernmost point in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, Osoyoos sits in Canada’s only desert, on the shores of its warmest lake. At 11 miles long and about a mile across at its widest point, Osoyoos Lake, which crosses into Oroville, Washington, offers a reasonable size for boating, Jet Skiing, kayaking and paddleboarding (rentals are widely available). It is just a fraction of the size of Okanagan Lake, about 35 miles to the north, and draws a fraction of the crowds that flock to Penticton, Kelowna and other towns on the larger lake’s shores. Yet in its own, subdued way, Osoyoos attracts families in summer with kid-friendly lakeside resorts, and, after the youngsters go back to school, grownups savor the lingering desert warmth through fall.
Southern Okanagan’s Thriving Wine Scene
Over the past two decades, the Okanagan Valley has emerged as British Columbia’s premier wine region, and 44 of the valley’s 120 wineries are between Osoyoos and Oliver, about 12 miles north. A guided, half-day electric bicycle tour with Heatstroke Cycle & Sport allows us to discover the diversity of the southern valley’s most-appealing varietals. In the rustic tasting room at Bartier Bros. winery, for example, we detect hints of honey and peach in a gewürztraminer-chardonnay blend. At Black Hills Estate Winery’s Wine Experience Centre (above), the luscious intensity of the signature Nota Bene blend of red Bordeaux varietals is as dazzling as the swanky setting, which includes a poolside deck that overlooks the valley. (Unfortunately, the pool is decorative only, and not available for swimming.) Memorable selections at the stately Burrowing Owl Estate Winery include a pinot gris offering hints of stone fruit, which prove refreshing on this 85-degree day, and a rich cabernet sauvignon–syrah blend.
You should always designate a driver when wine tasting or find alternative transportation, and one of the most fun alternatives in Osoyoos is the OK Wine Shuttle. For $85 Canadian (about $68 U.S.), the shuttle provides hop-on/hop-off service between Osoyoos’ major resorts and 15 wineries. (The shuttle free does not cover winery tasting fees.)
A Great Golf Getaway
The Okanagan Valley is also one of British Columbia’s most popular golf destinations, and a favorable exchange rate makes greens fees more affordable. In the foothills on the west side of town, Osoyoos Golf Club (above) offers two distinct 18-hole layouts: the tree-lined Park Meadows and the target-style Desert Gold. In Oliver, Fairview Mountain golf course tantalizes with its pristine, mountainside location, along with its posh clubhouse, while Nk’Mip Canyon Desert Golf Course, (pronounced in-ka-meep) also in Oliver, tests your shot-making skills on fairways and greens surrounded by shrub-steppe. Several other quality courses are located farther north.
The Okanagan Legacy
The setting for our relaxing lunch is the bistro at Nk’Mip Cellars winery, on the Osoyoos Indian Reserve, which stretches up a hillside from the lake’s eastern shore. Afterward, we walk past the adobe-style suites and villas of Spirit Ridge resort to the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre (above), which tells the story of the Okanagan people. The building, which houses galleries and performance space, is a marvel in its own right, with thick, multihued concrete walls built using a modern form of rammed-earth construction. On the adjacent, mile-long interpretive loop trail, placards explain how the area’s earliest inhabitants relied on shrubs and other vegetation that still grow in the area, including yarrow, antelope brush and mariposa lily, for purposes such as food or medicine.
–Written by Rob Bhatt