We arrived to the Penticton Coast Hotel late afternoon and were warmly welcome with an amazing basket full of Okanagan products, which I will surely cherish upon my return to Montreal. Penticton is a small town of 40,000 people that swells up when tourist season starts in June. The town is located between Okanagan and Skaha lakes and is home to many sporting activities like skiing, hiking, golfing, kayaking, biking, etc.
PENTICTONThe Vanilla Pod Restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery – Dinner in Penticton was at the lovely Vanilla Pod restaurant located within Poplar Grove Winery. Just like with every winery in the Okanagan Valley, this one has its share of breathtaking views, which you can enjoy with your meal. The food is focused on local and seasonal fare and international flavours. Executive Chef Bruno Terroso’s fresh, fine cuisine has garnered The Vanilla Pod a second best winery restaurant award by Vancouver Magazine.
The Bench Artisan Food Market – The Bench is a cute little café serving simple, made-from-scratch breakfasts, lunches and baked goods using only local products. It also doubles as a store and sells quite a few local food products. It came highly recommended by a few people and seems to be very popular with locals and tourists alike since it was hopping on the Wednesday morning we were there.
Hoodoo Adventures – If it’s an outdoor adventure you’re looking for while in the Okanagan Vallley, Hoodoo Adventures are the people who will serve it up. Whether kayaking coupled with brunch on a secluded beach is your cup of tea or rather a kayak outing paired with some wine tasting, founder Lyndie and her team can pretty much design an adventure around your needs. They also offer great adventures for kids.Upper Bench Winery & Creamery – What pairs better than cheese and wine? A winemaker husband and his cheesemaker wife! Gavin and Shana Miller acquired Upper Bench a couple of years ago only but they had been in the business for a few years prior to that. Upper Bench is small, family-run and everything is done by hand, from pruning the vines to washing the cheese. I had so much fun visiting with the Millers (and their dogs!) and learning about the different aspects of their businesses. You can sit on the terrasse and have a plate of cheese paired with some of the estate’s wines as well as a lovely view of the vines. Hillside Estate Winery – Right up the street from Upper Bench is Hillside Estate Winery offering “unique, small-plot and terroir-driven” wines. Like all wineries in the region, Hillside offers wine tasting but also tours of the vineyards and facilities. We had lunch at the Hillside Bistro, which offers indoors seating as well as outdoor terraces with breathtaking views of the Okanagan Lake and the vineyards. Executive Chef Rob Cordonier’s menu features seasonal and locally-inspired dishes, which you can of course pair with the estate’s wines. Blue Mountain Winery – We took a little detour on our way down to Osoyoos and drove up the hill to Blue Mountain Winery which must have some of the best vistas of (blue) mountains, vines as far as the eye can see and water far off in the distance. The estate is beautiful and although we couldn’t do any more wine tasting that day, we were assured by several people that their wines (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir) are some of the best in the valley.
As we kept driving down, we noticed that the fauna started changing slightly. Different wild flowers grow further south and the climate is more arid, which is no surprise since Osoyoos and the area surrounding it are the only desert in Canada. Yes, in case you didn’t know, Canada does have a desert and this is it, complete with rattlesnakes (!), cacti, 40-degree temperatures and some of the most unique flora and fauna in Canada. Osoyoos is a small town of 4,000 that welcomes many visitors come summertime. There were more orchards and fruit stands along the road than in the northern parts of the Okanagan Valley but they were all empty at this time of year so we went looking for more wineries and this is what we found.The Coast Osoyoos Beach Hotel where we stayed is located on a strip of land running through the middle of Osoyoos Lake. The view from our suite (thank you for upgrading us!) was stunning! Located directly above the sandy Coast Hotel beach, the suite’s terrace opens up onto the lake with a range of mountain in the distance.
OK Wine Shuttle – OK Wine Shuttle is definitely the way to go on wine tours in the Okanagan Valley. They offer a shuttle service that drives in a loop and goes around several wineries in the Osoyoos/Oliver and Penticton/Naramata regions, from 10am to 7pm. You hop on at one of their pick up points in the morning, hop off at the winery of your choice, do your wine tasting, hop on again (the shuttles come back around every 30 minutes or so) and so on. It’s a great way to squeeze in quite a few wineries, lunch or whatever else you may want to do at no extra cost and without having to drive yourself. We loved our OK Wine Shuttle tour and would definitely do it again anytime. Here are some of the wineries in the Osoyoos/Oliver region that we visited with them.Nk’Mip Cellars – This is the only aboriginal winery in Canada. They make a variety of wines, including a great Cabernet Sauvignon and their own Mer’r’iym – meaning marriage – that is a great and elegant blend. The wine store also sells a variety of aboriginal items and art. Adega Estate Winery – This young winery used to be a family-run orchard since the land was purchased by the grandfather in 1966. It’s been transformed into miles of vineyards in 2009 and is now starting to produce some really nice bottles. The family being of Portuguese heritage, they also, of course, produce Port (or their very own Portao), an excellent sweet wine that would be a perfect ending to any meal.
Desert Hills Estate Winery – A family-owned boutique winery, Desert Hills has won numerous accolades for their excellent wines. Located on some of the best soil in the Okanagan, the award-winning winery is run by the three Toor brothers who learned the business as they went along. Their passion is present in every sip of their wines and their story an incredible one of success and drive. I spent some time chatting with Randy and it made me want to go back and visit soon.The almost 5-hour long drive west from Osoyoos to Vancouver through the Cascade mountain range is absolutely stunning. We had to stop on several occasions to take pictures and simply take it all in. Snow-capped mountains, dense pine forests, gushing rivers and bright green meadows dot the sinuous road and make it one of the most beautiful I’ve ever driven on. We went from 22 degrees in arid Osoyoos to less than 8 degrees and spotted snow along some parts of the road, with temperatures rising back up again when we got closer to Vancouver.
Many thanks to Coast Hotels for inviting me to be a part of this Great Coast Road Trip. My flight, hotel room and certain meals were covered by Coast Hotels as part of this organized press trip. Many thanks also to ZipCar for covering the transportation part of the trip.