By Josie Heisig, Travel Media Specialist
V0H 1T0. That’s the postal code for the lovely town of Oliver in the south Okanagan Valley. The locals say it stands for the “Valley of Heaven in the Okanagan.” I think they’re bang on.
Not only is this area home to an insanely beautiful desert landscape, it’s also packed with amazing vineyards and fertile farms. If you’re into fresh-from-the-field food paired with local wine (and really, who doesn’t like to eat and drink well?), a visit to this part of the province will put you in your happy place.
Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos is a great home base for exploration. It’s in a primo spot right on Osoyoos Lake; from here, you can stroll into town (be sure to grab a latte from Jojo’s Café) or you can wander along the pretty shoreline. Hungry? The Resort’s Wine & Tapas Bar has you covered with beautiful and tasty shared plates, like this salad-in-a-jar plus their soba noodle and squid salad.
With 130 wineries, the Okanagan Valley is the biggest wine-growing region in BC. Whittling down your list is the tricky part. Black Hills Estate Winery always beckons me with its gorgeous wines and chic design. This place has a cult-like following and once you’ve tasted their vintages, you’ll understand why. If they’re pouring their small-lot Carmenere, you’re in luck. Jeff Stewart, the winery’s tasting room manager, says that while the Pinot Noir has a reputation for being the heartbreak grape, Carmenere is way worse. Black Hills is the only BC winery producing a straight varietal from this finicky grape.
As if the wines aren’t enough of a draw, there’s another reason to flock to Black Hills: the food! Joy Road Catering opened a vineyard kitchen there this summer. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Wow. Just wow. (As an aside, if you’ve never been to one of Joy Road’s al fresco dinners in Okanagan Falls, what are you waiting for? GO!)
It’s all about the journey, right? Getting from one winery to the next is pretty darn fun if you hop on an electric bike tour with Heatstroke Cycle. I’ll admit I was the first in our group to groan when I heard we had battery-powered rides; I wanted to cycle on my own steam. However, after a few winery stops coupled with some steep hills, I swallowed my pride and revved that baby up. So fun! Tours usually visit at seven South Okanagan wineries. Rustico Farm & Cellars was easily one of the highlights for our group with its saloon-style tasting room and laid-back charm. If you’d rather wine tour in the comfort of a luxurious vehicle (hello A/C!), you can let Landsea Tours do the driving. These folks have a track record for stellar service in the Lower Mainland and have recently started tours in the Okanagan.
After all that sipping and cycling, we were ready for another Okanagan feast. Enter Chef Chris Van Hooydonk and the team from Backyard Farm. They’ve just opened the doors to a charming Chef’s Table and are welcoming groups for personalized interactive dinners. Ever wonder how to properly poach an egg? They’ll show you. Or if you’d rather sit back and watch, you can do that, too.
The fact that there’s a desert in Canada is a surprise to many. If you can pull yourself away from the wineries, the Osoyoos Desert Centre is a great place to spend an hour or two. There’s a lovely 1.5 kilometre (.95 mile) boardwalk where you can learn about the snakes, owls, bats and other indigenous species that live in the area.
That arid, sandy soil also provides the perfect growing conditions for organic fruits and veggies. One of the most visitor-friendly experiences is the family-owned Covert Farms. At 263 hectares (650 acres), it’s huge. Fortunately, you can hitch a ride aboard a groovy 1952 Mercury truck for a guided tour with a farmer. You’ll find Instagram-worthy shots around every turn. Feel like foraging? You can get into the fields and pick your own produce. And if that’s not enough adventure for you, you might want to start training for the Freak’n Farmer Adventure Obstacle Race. On September 20, participants will perform all kinds of tough tasks around the farm. Fortunately, there is a good incentive for them to finish; wine, beer and a barbecue await athletes at the end of the course.
We drove south from Covert Farms to Tinhorn Creek for our last supper in the Okanagan and, oh boy, it was a special one. Miradoro Restaurant is perched up on a hillside with spectacular valley views. In fact, you can see many of the farms that provide ingredients for the kitchen. The food is memorable with items like roasted ling cod and wild boar bacon carbonara on the menu. Tinhorn Creek is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and they’re hosting 20 events to celebrate. I’ll happily raise a glass of my new favourite Rosé to that!
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