On Day 11 of our holiday we set off from Squamish to drive the 452km to Kelowna, firstly on the Sea to Sky Highway (Route99) through Vancouver before joining the Trans Canada Highway (Route 1). The drive takes in cityscapes, open plains, steep winding climbs and even steeper more winding descents. Part of the way it runs alongside the Fraser river, said to be the greatest salmon river in the world, its huge and, swollen by snow melt, is an amazing sight to see. With a couple of stops to eat and take in coffee the drive took just over 6 hours but the first sight of the Okanagan was more than compensation enough. Although Lake Okanagan is 135km long it doesn’t even come in the top ten largest lakes in BC, never mind Canada. By comparison, England’s longest lake is Windermere, at 10 miles. Enough of the geography though. Kelowna was about a bit of “me” time for both of us so once we had safely parked up on the Hiawatha RV Park, Lakeshore Drive we went for a walk to see if there were any interesting looking eateries within walking distance.
Sometimes I think you just get lucky. No more than 300 yards from the RV Park there was a block of luxury apartments with a restaurant and patio on the ground floor. It was just opening for dinner service, although there was a group of women on the patio talking and drinking wine. I asked one of the servers (there was a maitre d’ lectern by the entrance) if I could have a quick look at the menu. This privately owned restaurant, called Basil & Mint, turned out to be one of THE eating destinations in Kelowna. The chef, Peter McGoewn has a fine reputation for cooking great fresh local ingredients and presenting them in an unfussy but appealing manner but we knew none of this before we sat down. The three course fixed price menu was $38 per person (£22) plus tax; there were a la carte choices too. Anyway, we decided to stay, we were very casually dressed but this made no difference to the incredible staff. Salads are big in Canada and nearly always available as starters, so that was what we chose, mine was beetroot, leaves and goats’ cheese, Mrs C chose sprout tops and apple with coleslaw (far tastier than it sounds). My main was braised fore-rib with garlic mash and seasonal roasted veg. Lemon cheesecake and Sicilian (as opposed to Neapolitan) Tiramisu to finish. All washed down with a belting Shiraz from the Moon Curser Vineyard, just down the road.
A friendly warning here, we sat outside the van for an hour after dinner and were properly introduced, for the first time, to the Canadian mosquito, being both large and voracious they are best avoided. Friday morning dawned with blue skies overhead and, with a mix excitement and optimism at the prospect of a great day ahead we waited at the park entrance for our Wine Tour guide. Before I start to describe the tour, wine and food I need to say that I cannot speak highly enough of Joe, the owner of City and wine tours (cityandwinetours.com), I picked his tour from several available on the interweb and I doubt I could have made a better choice. His Mercedes mini-coach is nothing short of luxurious and he is a thoroughly nice guy, who has a passion for wine without any of the pretentiousness you might expect. He grows grapes for wine and I have no doubt that in years to come he will have his own winery. Good Luck to him. He made a very special day even more special, I recommend him to the house.
We visited 3 wineries before lunch, Tantalus where the Riesling was the pick of the bunch (bottle bought for later), Cedar Creek which produces mostly good quality red wines and St Hubertus, where I tried a wine called MARECHAL FOCH which so impressed that I bought a bottle to bring home to Blighty. Lunch was to be taken at the Sunset Organic Bistro which is at the heart of the Summerhill Pyramid Winery. Summerhill is owned and run by the Cipes family. They are very “spiritual” (Google them) but that doesn’t take away from the wine, the food or the setting. Pre tour we ate and shared a 500ml carafe of the Organic Pinot Gris, (another bottle bought). This is a fabulous place to visit and the wine is excellent.
The final Winery we visited, The View, is also home to Wards Hard Apple Cider. The View is a smallish quirky business where you are made to feel right at home from the minute you walk in the door. They actually make a sparkling “picnic” wine which they sell in a can; it’s a far better idea (and taste) than it sounds. The signature wine is their medal winning Pinotage Rose, a thoroughly grand drop, yet another bottle bought. Joe delivered us back to our park in the late afternoon. We took a walk along the lakeside, bought some provisions and had a quiet night in with a Spanish omelette, some salad, crusty bread and the Tantalus Riesling. A day that will live long in the memory.
Saturday was always going to be a day for taking it easy although there were things we had half planned. A leisurely breakfast, after a walk along the lake (again) and then into West Kelowna town to visit the excellent little Museum there. Lots of information about the local indigenous tribes, something I’m very interested in. No Saturday on holiday is the same without a couple of drinks and some eats so, along with the sightseeing and the people watching we visited a couple of pubs and the Okanagan Spirit Company bar for a G&T before repairing to Memphis Blues Barbecue House www.memphisbluesbbq.com. Authentic Barbecue with a bit of a Canadian twist, the short stack of ribs I had was excellent. It’s one of those places where you order at the counter. I got in the queue behind a group of guys that had been on the next table to us in the previous bar, I’d said a brief hello to them. As they were ordering the call came out that there were no ribs ready, for at least two hours, apart from one “short stack”. I let out an audible sigh of disappointment whereupon the guy in front of me said “Hey man, were you getting the ribs”? When I replied that I would have liked to he changed his order to Brisket, a great friendly gesture to a visitor. I’ve never eaten real Barbecue before, another firm recommendation if you’re ever out that way.
A road trip isn’t a road trip unless you spend some time on the road. Sunday, another glorious day, was set aside for driving the 350km to Sunshine Valley, first along the length of the Okanagan, through acres and acres of vineyards and orchards, then via Osoyoos, The Nk’Mip Desert (there is a real desert in British Columbia) where the Sylix Indians have a cultural centre before continuing along Route 3, passing through Penticton and the EC Manning Provincial Park before reaching our park for the night. We spent a couple of hours at the Sylix Centre which was interesting but could have been more informative. I think that, if I can find the time, I will do a bit of research on these very proud and independent people. One thing I did learn, the Coyote is a mythical and revered animal. The Sylix call him Ix’Ilip. Coyote was sent to make sure that earth was safe for the humans and he still watches over them. He is a friend of the spirits and can be a friend (and a mischief) to the people he watches over. Lake Okanagan is home to its very own Loch Ness monster too, he (or she) is called Naitaka (or Ogopogo).
Just along from Sunshine Valley, outside the small western town of Hope is the Coquihalla Canyon where you will find the Othello Tunnels. If you ever visit Canada and have an interest in such things this is one of the many “experience not to miss” places. The Canyon itself is impressive enough, Carved out of the rock by a raging river it was, at one time, one of the most inaccessible places in that part of Canada. The Kettle Valley Railroad once ran through here but it wouldn’t have been able to without the skills and ingenuity of Scottish engineer Andrew McCulloch and the bravery of his tunnelling team. Between 1911 and 1916 5 tunnels were blasted through the granite walls of the canyon and bridges were built to connect them together.
Although it took 5 years to create and was hugely expensive, it opened up a large part of Southern British Columbia to miners, farmers and other settlers. The tunnels get their name from the nearest station to them (Othello). McCulloch was an avid Shakespeare fan and other stations along the route are called Juliet, Romeo, Iago and Lear. The walk through the tunnels and along the trail is easy going, with harder trails through the forest if you want them, all in all an excellent short hike with truly breattaking scenery. *Fascinating Fact* the tunnels and the small town of Hope were the setting for Rambo-First Blood. The short hop to Squamish via Vancouver (200km) saw us back at Mountain Fun RV Park, tired but ready for our final week of adventure
A long highlight I know but even given the fact that I drove for hours, over some of the most challenging roads I have ever experienced, these few days were wonderful. The whole place, the people, the history, the food and wine, the weather and the company combined to create a truly memorable “holiday within a holiday”.
© Colin Cross 2018