The Unknown Okanagan

June 2, 2008

Sure, there are the wineries—84 at last count—and the restaurants that thrive on local produce and meats and artisanal cheeses. We went looking instead for the places the locals are wise to, like where to source the best raspberries, the rarest books, and the freshest baguettes. As a recent Vancouver transplant to the area put it: “There’s always one place in a small town that really captures the sense of the place.” With the help of a celebrity chef, a tour guide, a broadcaster, and a Hollywood actor turned oenophile, we uncovered a couple dozen of them. 


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Meet Your Guides…


Best known as Brandon Walsh in the long-running TV series Beverly Hills 90210, the Vancouver-born actor and director has long been a wine enthusiast. Earlier this year Priestley bought a stake in Black Watch, a Naramata winery.


An Okanagan tour operator for 10 years, Ogden says the bulk of her business involves organizing sophisticated itineraries for corporate retreats and, just recently, Costco members.


The 34-year-old chef/TV host has deep roots in the Okanagan Valley; of his new Kelowna room, the Cabana Bar and Grille, he says: “The Okanagan is going to be the most exciting place to cook in the next five to 10 years.”


Broadcasting vet Terry David Mulligan and his wife, Meg, moved to the Naramata Bench last July. Mulligan now hosts a weekly radio show from a studio he fashioned from an old horse stall in his barn.

Now buckle up. Okanagan, here we come…

 Kelowna's Cool Spots

"Boomtown" hardly describes the growth that Kelowna has seen in the past decade. It now has traffic jams and strip malls, but the influx of people—many from other parts of B.C., and Alberta—has multiplied the number of places to check out. You can easily spend a couple days.

>  “At the Okanagan Lavender Herb Farm you can buy lavender, pick your own, take craft classes, or just walk through the fields.” 4380 Takla Rd., Kelowna, 250-764-7795—P.O.

> “My stepbrother, Ross Rebagliati, and I often go up to Kelowna Mountain—it’s a snowboard resort that’s being built. Ross is director of snowboard operations. We play outdoor shinny, rip around on ATVs, and in summer, it’s great for hiking and mountain biking.”—N.B.

> “A couple from Vancouver bought an old orchard, took down the apple trees, and made a fabulous fence from the knotty wood. They’ve built wonderful gardens around the remaining trees and added a little chapel. Elysium Gardens is a wonderful place to tour.” 2834 Belgo Rd., Kelowna, 250-491-1368—P.O.

> “Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan is a neat spot. They host farm tours and tastings, and, of course, their cheese shop is there, too.” 170 Timberline Rd., Kelowna, 250-870-3117—P.O.

> Mission Hill’s parent company acquired and renovated the Lake House at Green Bay in the spring, and is now accepting bookings at this waterfront bed-and-breakfast. Reserve now: there are only four rooms, they’re charming and tastefully decorated, they go for between $205 and $225 a night (depending on the view), and they include a continental breakfast and a tour and tasting up the slope at Mission Hill. 1454 Green Bay Rd., Westbank, 250-768-8886

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 The Middle of the Valley

Penticton, about halfway down the Okanagan Valley from Kelowna, is full of great little spots you'd never come across on a standard wine tour. Who'd have guessed that it has one of the quirkiest and best used-book stores in the province?

> “Drive down Naramata Bench Road, past Poplar Grove Winery, and you’ll see a road that says Three Mile. Down at the bottom of it is the dog beach. All the locals are there, all the dogs are in the water together, there are rowboats.… It’s just a great, great beach.”—T.D.M.

> “Campbell Mountain is where I go to hike. It’s above Penticton and overlooks the Naramata Bench. It’s a long way up, but the views from the top are worth it.”—J.P.

> “I love the artisanal cheese places. Most people don’t know that Poplar Grove Winery, in the Naramata Bench, also makes fantastic cheeses.” 1060 Poplar Grove Rd., Penticton, 250-492-4575—N.B.

> “There’s a little place above Penticton called the Bench Market. It’s part deli, part coffeehouse, and always busy. They have frozen dishes by Vikram Vij, my favourite chef.” 368 Vancouver Ave., Penticton, 250-492-2222—J.P.

> “In Penticton, I love Il Vecchio. It’s a hugely popular deli with a team of ladies behind the counter and lineups that start around 11:30 a.m. They have salamis, cheeses, pickles, and condiments, but they also make a killer sandwich. If you don’t know what to get, order the Val Special (Val’s the owner), but everything is good.” 317 Robinson Rd., Penticton, 250-492-7610—T.D.M.

> “Teas and Weaves is an interesting spot in this old brick-and-concrete building. There are the teas, and then there are the rugs—stacks of Oriental rugs. Some are new, some used. You’ll sit there and really get drawn in by them. We’ve got three in our home now.” 65 E. Nanaimo Ave., Penticton, 250-492-5121—T.D.M.

> Former schoolteacher Bruce Stevenson opened the 5,000-square-foot Bookshop in 1974, stocking it with an extensive selection of new, used, and out-of-print titles, as well as a stellar inventory of foreign films for rent. It’s the kind of place you can spend an afternoon. And if that happens to be a rainy one, all the better. 242 Main St., Penticton, 250-492-6661

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Osoyoos Bound

Head south from Penticton and you end up at Osoyoos, just north of the U.S. border. The Nk’Mip Interpretive Centre at Osoyoos is well worth a visit, and so are these lesser-known stops along the way.


> In January, the campaign to save the Skaha Climbing Bluffs ended with locals and the Land Conservancy purchasing a parcel of the area for $5.25 million. Plans are under way to secure a permanent access point to the spectacular lookout and wildlife sanctuary. Meantime, access and parking are at the south end of Valleyview Road.

> The valley’s finest fruit stand is an ingenious straw-bale structure perched at the roadside on Arlene and Dave Sloan’s 25-acre Matheson Creek Farm. From August to October, the stand is open daily between 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.. Stock includes 15 varieties of apples (“The Sunrise apples come first, and they’re everyone’s favourite,” says Arlene), peaches, plums, prunes, nectarines, pears, and raspberries, plus your standard vegetables, including bell peppers and tomatoes. They keep things simple, so no prepared foods or pies, just the freshest produce imaginable, picked throughout the day to keep up with the fierce demand. Hint: arrive early if you want just- picked raspberries. 10 minutes south of Penticton on Eastside Rd., along the eastern shore of Skaha Lake, 250-497-8989


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