Canada’s incredible natural beauty bursts beyond the limits of its mountain ranges, into regions as diverse as temperate rainforest and arid grasslands. British Columbia is one of the most varied provinces, with lots to do besides skiing in Whistler and cruising the coast. There is so much more to this fantastical province than meets the eye – particularly if you know where to look.
Although wonderfully atmospheric, the coast and mountains can be rainy and misty, and the weather there is generally less predictable. If you want sunshine you can set your watch by, head into BC’s golden Okanagan region, where wellness and wineries are the order of the day.
Here you’ll find lush river valleys, grasslands and sun-soaked vineyards. The sunny climate, excellent dining and laidback attitude beckons those in search of relaxation, rejuvenation and more-than-a-little wine tasting. We’ve delved into two of our favourite spots in this lesser-known region that are perfect for kicking back in your sun lounger:
This is the largest city in BC’s Interior Thompson Okanagan region, which is dripping with vineyards and foodie culture. Although a city, Kelowna itself has the friendly feel of a town. It is a real sanctuary of orchards and vineyards, cool blue lakes and fragrant pine forests. It settles at the mid-point of the enormous 68-mile long Okanagan Lake. As such, it is in the perfect position to visit countless sandy beaches along the lake shore.
If you’re coming with kids, they’ll love the beach vibes and water sports on offer, with tons of activities from water-skiing to wind surfing. However, the city really comes into its own if you’re over the legal drinking age of 19 in BC. Undoubtedly one of the major attractions of Kelowna is the surrounding vineyards.
Wine tasting in Kelowna
There are more than 40 wineries within a 20-minute drive of Kelowna. That means you’ll never run out of fantastic grapes and vintages to swirl, sip and savour! You can follow any of the five wine trails on offer to enjoy several vineyards together. Whether you explore them solo or as part of a guided tour, you’ll have a great experience.
Calona Vineyards is just a short walk from downtown where you can discover BC’s original winery. As the first in British Columbia, it tells the story of where it all began – alongside plentiful tastings, of course. Expect fresh pinot gris and unoaked chardonnay alongside fruity pinot noir and heady cabernet merlot.
The Mission Hill Family Estate is another landmark winery that’s well worth your taste buds’ attention. It’s enviable location boasts dazzling views and an acclaimed terrace restaurant to go with its wines. Try Quail’s Gate if you enjoy your wine paired with delectable local ingredients.
Wellness in Kelowna
Wineries and wellness go together like cheese and port, and Kelowna has plenty of options if you are looking for relaxation in the form of blissful lakeside spa treatments.
The Beyond Wrapture spa is in a convenient location inside the Coast Capri Hotel, attached to the Capri Centre Mall in town. As well as the usual massages and essential oils, they offer a unique little something called ‘Vinotherapy’. This unbelievably indulgent treatment follows a grape-pip scrub with a honey-wine body wrap and grapeseed oil massage. Sounds like a winning combination to us!
An hour’s drive from Kelowna is God’s Mountain Estate, just south of the town of Penticton where the giant Okanagan Lake ends. God’s Mountain Estate nestles by Skaha Lake – a small expanse of water by the standards of its big brother. The huge 115-acre oasis centres around an imposing Mediterranean-style villa where you enjoy wellness therapies in beautiful surroundings. Think yoga, art, saltwater pools and delicious al fresco dining.
At the north end of the Okanagan Valley, visitors will find a warm welcome in the town of Vernon. This is the oldest settlement in the Valley and the pace here is laid back. At every coffee shop or museum, the locals will love to tell you all about their hometown.
Typical of the region, the town commands stunning lake and mountain views with snatches of Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine breaking the skyline. Alongside the staples of wine-making and wellness retreats, Vernon uses its natural assets to attract hikers and bikers to its sloping hills.
Wine tasting in Vernon
Vernon is blessed to have eight wineries in Lake Country just to the south of the city. But it doesn’t stop end there; there are eight more to the north in Armstrong and Shuswap. Seven of the wineries in Lake Country make up the Scenic Sip tour which is a pleasure to explore.
Head over to the 50th Parallel Estate Winery for wine tasting in a luxurious setting, complete with fine dining restaurant. In contrast, Arrowleaf Cellars provides a truly chilled vibe, with a sun-soaked picnic area that’s perfect for relaxing with a crisp chardonnay. Their kitchen offers a relaxed menu with sharing dishes like charcuterie and cheese boards. For the eco-conscious, check out Blind Tiger’s range of certified Organic wines.
Wellness in Vernon
The Sparkling Hill Resort certainly lives up to its name. This wellness retreat is adorned in crystals. Yes, crystals. Its founder is the patriarch of the Swarovski crystal family, and more than 3.5 million gemstones adorn the walls and ceilings of the resort. The result is magical.
Sparkling Hill perches on top of a granite bluff and has unparalleled views out over Lake Okanagan. You’ll find an outdoor infinity pool, indoor saltwater pool and the usual steam rooms and saunas here. Beyond that, the treatments become more scientific and complex, with hydrotherapy, a Cryo Cold Chamber and a unique detoxifying treatment.
Further Afield in Kamloops
It’s not quite in the Okanagan Valley, but next-door-neighbour Kamloops shares the same sunny vibe as Vernon and Kelowna. In fact, Kamloops is one of Canada’s sunniest destinations, boasting over 2,000 hours of glorious sunshine a year.
Its enviable spot sits at the confluence of the South and North Thompson rivers. In BC’s semi-arid grasslands, it’s just an 80 minute-drive from Vernon. This is the region of BC’s Interior that you should head to if you like your activities on the adventurous side.
Impressive sandstone canyons, vast grasslands and evergreen timberlands create the perfect natural playground. You’ll find endless hiking and biking here in summer, along with dozens of pristine golf courses. Don’t think this dry region of Canada will let you down when it comes to water activities though – what Kamloops lacks in rainfall, it makes up for with more than 100 lakes and two major rivers. It’s perfect for fishing, kayaking and tubing under the sun.
The alpine resort of Sun Peaks is just an hour from Kamloops, and while you might have heard of its reputation as a family-friendly ski field in winter, you may not know that its allure endures all summer. Those downhill ski runs make the perfect mountain bike routes once the snow has thawed and the hills are perfect hiking territory. The party spirit isn’t just reserved for après either; the resort boasts food and wine festivals throughout the year.
This region sets itself up perfectly for a driving holiday. It’s less than 4 hours from Vancouver to Kamloops, and then just a couple of hours or less from Kamloops to Vernon, and Vernon to Kelowna.
For a leisurely dip into BC’s Interior, many of Rocky Mountaineer’s stunning routes travel through and stop off in Kamloops for a night to give you a taste of the laidback lifestyle here.