If you find yourself constantly drawn to the heat and wine of California, but shutter at the cost of traveling to the States, well, let me introduce you to Kelowna, BC.  I got the chance to spend a few days there this past week and on more than one occasion, we remarked that the city seemed more like California than anything else, but with the benefits (friendliness, cost) of Canada. Even though this was my fifth time to the city, I found lots of things that I had never seen before, honed in one some terrific travel tips and took lots of moments to take in the delicious wine and tasty meals.   Here is this week’s Road Trippin blog!

How to Get There:

From downtown Calgary, Kelowna is a hearty drive, but a beautiful one. It’s 609 kms of mountains, valleys and rivers. Or, like I did on this particular trip, you can skip the seven hour drive and fly. Flights are usually between $300-$400 return, but with flying time at just an hour, what you spend in money, you save in time.

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Where to drink:

For many, people don’t go to Kelowna to see things, they go to drink things, specifically wine. The region is home to more than 25 wineries, all offering a variety of experiences, tastes, treats and views. For this trip, we popped into three different vineyards. The promised view from Quail’s Gate, which is featured in practically every tourism magazine, was too good to pass up. On a sunny day, it offers a truly unforgettable landscape. But you’re not just there to take pictures, are you? The wine was also great deal. For $5, you get plenty to sample, I think we ended up tasting about seven different wines. Feeling the effects of the wine, we took a break on the grounds, that offer up soft grass and picnic tables. Mission Hill was second on our tour. We didn’t taste any wine here, instead took in the grounds, which are like a modern castle over-looking the entire valley. Throngs of people were sitting around, just relaxing, enjoying the views, the amphitheater and the spectacular-looking menu. The next day, we visited the Gray Monk vineyard, but this time we skipped the tasting and went right the restaurant. I’m a sucker for a good patio and Gray Monk’s is the best in the area. We each ordered a glass of the Estate Pinot Auxerrois ($8.5) and Estate Riesling ($8) and a cheese platter ($17). This was our last vineyard before we headed home and it was a perfect way to sit back and enjoy the Okanagan Lake one last time.

PicMonkey Collage
Where to eat:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my Twitter feed light up with so much excitement as it did when I tweeted that I’d be eating at RauDZ.  The restaurant has become very popular with foodies who love fresh and seasonal dishes that change with the temperature. Typically serving Pacific Northwest fare, RauDZ has built up a reputation of celebrating all things local, starting with the drinks.  And truthfully, I couldn’t agree more with the excited tweets, it was delicious.  I would also add that the entire experience was colourful, engaging and most importantly, original. I can honestly say that I’ve never had calamari like they serve it at Raudz.  The Grilled Calamari dish ($12) features grilled tubes, with a fantastic tomato stuffing.  I guess you could say it was sorta like calamari ravioli. Definitely something worth trying!  For the main dish, I had the Pan Roasted Tofino Spring Salmon ($26), while the others at my table enjoyed the arctic char ($25) and the prime rib special ($24) All of the dishes left us full, but in the best possible way.  I was particularly pleased with the desserts, mostly because I never have desserts, but Raudz offers taster sizes and prices that start at only $4. And seriously, how can you not eat a $4 dessert?  I don’t fancy myself a food writer, but to me a sign of a good meal is how quickly the time goes by and whether it was the wine, the food, the company or the food (worthy of a second mention), but even though we arrived at 8:00pm, we were almost the last table at restaurant. I guess time really does fly when you’re having (and eating) fun.

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Where to stay:

Delta Grand. Simply put. Stay at the Delta Grand. Whether it’s the prime waterfront location, the newly renovated hi-tech rooms, the amazing views of sunrises and sunsets or the indoor/outdoor pools,  I had an awesome stay at the Delta. A friend and I actually remarked that it really was like staying at resorts in Mexico or Dominican Repulbic, it really had everything that you would need and never have to leave. But it’s Kelowna, so you will leave, there’s too much to explore. But the aforementioned location will make it easier to hit the road (or water) and see what the region has to offer.  If I may offer up a travel tip, when you’re checking in, ask to stay in the North Tower. For one, it’s far away from the casino, plus its just gone under a total $12 million renovation.  I particularly enjoyed the Smart-Desk, which allowed me to plug in all my gadgets and gizmos, without awkwardly having to unplug lamps or move the bed to reach a plug-in. And I know this is may be not important to everyone, but nothing makes a room like a good shower and the Delta Grand gives good shower.   (Rooms start at $209/night.)

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What else is there to do:

The Kelowna-region isn’t just about wine. In fact, two of my favourite things we did this particular weekend had nothing to do with wine, I mean, unless Kangaroos like wine!  While flipping through the travel guide, I saw that there was a place called Kangaroo Creek Farm, it promised an up close experience with kangaroos, wallabies, sugar gliders possums and capybaras. Don’t let their poorly maintained website fool you, this place delivers what it promises. Within a few minutes of paying (it’s by donation), I was cuddling, patting, holding and snapping up close and personal pictures with baby kangaroos. I seriously had no idea this was something that could even be done in Kelowna…or Canada.  It was the coolest thing ever!

IMG_1566Being a little bit of a fan of the nature hikes, we also decided to check out the historic  Myra Canyon trail, which is just south of Kelowna. The steep and windy road will lead you to think you’ve gone the wrong direction, but stick with it, you’ll get there soon enough. The trail is ridiculously easy, with no steep climbs or anything that particularly difficult. The trail is a restored potion of the Kettle Valley Railway and it’s hike steeped in history (kettle/steeped, get it?)  The trail’s highlight is the 18 train trestles and two tunnels that take you through the historic valley. Many of the trestles were destroyed in the 2003 wildfires, but have since been restored. The hike is also a humble reminder of the sheer devastation of the 10-year-old fire and the forest’s sheer determination to grow again. Along the hike, you’ll also see foundations of old homes and stone ovens, once used by those working on the railway.  The hike also offers amazing views of the entire lake valley. If I were to do it again, I’d bring my bike. That way I could explore all 18 trestles much faster.

Things I still want to do:

Unfortunately, as with all trips, I had to leave before I was done exploring the Okanagan region.  Upon my presumptuous return, I hope to have dinner at Mission Hill, Doug Illman’s Croc Talk, Parasailing and go skiing at the Big White Ski Resort.

Favourite pictures:

IMG_1474Scenic sights at Mission Hill’s vineyard. 

IMG_1496The view of Kelowna’s harbour from our room at the Delta Grand. 

IMG_1635Taking in Okanagan Lake, one breath at a time. 

IMG_1740The flowers in full bloom at Gray Monk.

IMG_1743Delicious spread with an even more delicious view at Gray Monk winery.

IMG_1661From the ashes of the 2003 wildfires, beautiful flowers emerge.

IMG_1604Cuddling with a 7-week-old joey at Kangaroo Creek.

IMG_1656A long wall of trees line the path on the Myra Canyon trail.

 

Until the next trip….


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Mike Morrison

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