Heading for Kelowna? Head for the lake.
I drove in from Kamloops, following an itinerary that allowed a shade less than 24 hours for the Okanagan Valley’s biggest city.
Kelowna seems to hug Okanagan Lake like a favourite aunt. Visitors should too.
Staying at a lakefront hotel helped make the most out of a short stay. So did Tourism Kelowna’s Studio & Farm Tours brochure. It maps out self-guided tours of five areas, each colour-coded, so it’s easy to create your own customized tour from a choice of 50 stops.
I had time that afternoon to tickle my taste buds at two on the South Kelowna route that overlook the water:
Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan: Ofri and Ofer Barmor make about 20 varieties of cheese, fresh, soft-ripened and hard-aged. I went for the stronger-tasting ones that tasted like cheddar, parmesan or gorgonzola but carried names like "carmel" and "goatgonzolla."
If the cheeses don’t win converts to goat’s milk, then their gelatos will. Take it from an ice-cream addict who practically swooned over their creme brule. Visit www.carmelisgoatcheese.com
CedarCreek Estate Winery: Most of the visitors strolling the manicured lawn of this lovely property, glass in hand, were drinking pinot gris, their biggest seller. Gordon Fitzpatrick, CedarCreek’s president, said demand has tripled in the last five years.
They offer free tastings of some products, charge $5 to sample what Fitzpatrick called "our very best." Tours run daily May through October, and cost $7 per person, which can be applied to a purchase.
The Vineyard Terrace Restaurant has views of the vineyard and the lake, and concerts are held in the pavilion in summer. Visit www.cedarcreek.bc.ca
Next morning, it was off to the Kelowna Yacht Club and a laugh-filled two hours on the lake.
Go With The Wind Cruises: Al Cotton charges the same for his Okanagan Lake cruise now as he did when he started 14 years ago – $25 per person per hour.
His knowledge of the lake makes it an even bigger bargain. From the helm of Cat’s Ass, a 26-foot power sailor, he talked about new monster homes costing millions, including one with three swimming pools and "umpteen bedrooms" for a couple with one child. He steered past a log boom, pointed to a spot where a new herd of bighorn sheep had been seen frequently, and explained why the bridge in the distance had to be built to float (the lake’s 250 feet deep there).
His funniest tales were of meeting Vincent Price, Red Skelton and other show-business celebrities who patronized a Beverly Hills gas station where Cotton worked the night shift after leaving home in St. Thomas as a teenager. Visit www.gowiththewind.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU GO
Climate: An early spring and hot, dry summers attract deep-frozen Albertans and waterlogged Vancouverites. Average daily highs and lows in July are 28 and 10 compared with 26.3 and 14.6 in London, but Kelowna is less humid, and Go With The Wind’s Al Cotton swears there are no bugs.
Accommodation: The Hotel Eldorado, a near replica of one built in the 1920s. Owner Jim Nixon’s love of antiques is evident in the Heritage guest rooms’ claw-foot tubs and vintage radios and in the racing sculls hanging from the ceiling of the bar and dining room. Amenities in the newer Eldorado Arms wing include duvets, flat screen TV’s, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Wine and golf packages also available. Visit www.eldoradoKelowna.com.
Eat/drink: The Eldorado’s window-filled dining room was recommended, as was the high-ceilinged Cabana Grille, just across the road.
Tourism information: Visit www.tourismkelowna.com or phone 1-800-663-4345. Visitors’ guides mailed on request.
Ogopogo: For readers who connect the lake with Ogopogo, the sea monster said to inhabit its depths, there’s a statue of the mythical critter near City Park.