British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley made its name pleasing palates.
Wine-making has been around since at least the 1930s. Its orchards have been producing even longer.
Then there are the spinoffs — enterprising farmers, vintners, distillers and other entrepreneurs who are turning some of those grapes and tree fruits into fruit liqueurs and spirits, flavoured vinegars, jams and jellies.
Put those together, toss in a string of lakes, nearby mountains with ski resorts, lush fields, a chunk of desert, and sunshine numbers some tourism promoters compare with California’s, and you have a major tourism attraction.
The Okanagan is in south-central B.C., 200 kilometres long and 20 wide. Its northern point is above Vernon. It ends down in Osoyoos, just shy of the Washington state border.
My visit in early May was focused on stretch of roughly 130 km between Kelowna, the main hub, and Osoyoos. I had to hop from place to place, spending but one night in each.
If I were going for a holiday, I’d start in Kelowna. WestJet and Air Canada fly there. By road it’s 600 km from Calgary, 400 from Vancouver.
If you fly, rent a car and get a room for several nights. One advantage of using Kelowna as a base is that Penticton is only 77 km south, so it and its smaller neighbour, Summerland, are an easy day trip. Figure on staying at least one more night in Osoyoos, too.
An argument for Penticton is that you could easily reach both Kelowna and Osoyoos, just 51 km south.
Here’s more to get you started:
CLIMATE: Mainly hot, sunny and dry. Most of the valley receives about 2,000 hours of sunlight per year and 250-400 mm of precipitation. London, by comparison, gets 1,800 hours of sunshine annually but more than 800 mm of rain.
WINERIES: There are between 120 and 200 , depending on which website you read. They range from large, well-appointed facilities to small, simple family-run operations, from "name” wineries such as Mission Hill, Mission Hill Winery, which won International Wine & Spirits Competition medals as wine producer of the year and winery of the year in 2011, to ones just getting started.
All offer tastings. Many do tours, operate restaurants and gift shops, schedule concerts and other events. There’s more going on in summer, but spring visitors get a crack at early releases, and September-October is harvest time.
There’s a BC Wine Museum & VQA Wine Shop in Kelowna and a BC VQA Wine Information Centre in Penticton as well.
ORCHARDS: May sees trees begin to bloom. Prime harvest time is mid-August through early September, although some tree fruits start to ripen late June through July. A useful website is www.tourismkelowna.com.
GOLF: More than 50 courses, the majority in and around Kelowna, and a season that runs March through November. Predator Ridge, near Kelowna, was rated Best New Golf Course in Canada in 2010 by SCOREGolf Magazine.
CAMPING, HIKING: Provincial parks have campgrounds with pit toilets, campsites, and firewood. The Okanagan’s open terrain should mean less work for hikers and backpackers. The Kettle Valley Railway Trail, near Summerland, is often used by walking/hiking groups.
TOURISM INFORMATION: Thompson Okanagan Vacation Guide provides a good overview. Phone 1-800-567-2275 to have a copy mailed to you, or visit www.HelloBC.com/tota. Phone 1-800-HELLO BC or visit www.HelloBC.com for help reserving accommodations or planning driving routes.