Canada’s Chunky Cookie
She tilted her head to one side and said, “That sounds like a really chunky cookie.”
I said, “No, Canada!”
She shrugged, “Pepperidge Farm?”
I laughed, but was she wrong? I had not heard much of Thompson Okanagan either.
I soon found out “the Okanagan,” as locals call it, is a lake-speckled region in Central British Columbia with plenty of green rolling hills and nearby mountains. It’s also one of main stopping points for those touring between Vancouver and Calgary. The Okanagan is a well-kept secret for vacationing Canadians with attractions like a wine country, skiing, golf and wildlife.
While there are numerous quaint towns, Kelowna and Kamloops are the largest and most recognizable cities in the region. Both have airports, quality amenities and attractions with direct flights out of Seattle (alternating seasons) via Horizon Airlines in the U.S., as well as daily flights from Vancouver. Either Kelowna or Kamloops can work as a hub for day-tripping clients.
Kelowna feels like a city until travelers get off the main road following well-placed wine route signs. Off the main thoroughfare, winding roads lead visitors to numerous wineries worth exploring. My favorite is Summerhill Pyramid Vineyards. Yes, there is a giant pyramid on the grounds that serves as both a wine cellar and local curiosity with proponents swearing that the exacting geometry actually makes the wine taste better. Visitors will find free tours, good food and some of the best wine in the area.
Two notable lakeside hotels sit just down the road from Summerhill. Both properties are comfortable — with Mateo Resort being more business oriented and Hotel Eldorado more for families. (Agents should ask about the heritage lodgings with antique furnishings at Eldorado.)
While there are festivals year-round celebrating the local vino, the Annual Okanagan Fall Wine Festival is best known and most widely attended. It is also one of the few North American wine festivals to take place during the grape harvest. The celebration touts 165 events featuring wine and food with this year’s event pouring Sept. 29-Oct. 8. (For clients making a winter trip, the Icewine Festival is set for Jan. 19-21.)
Kamloops, established in 1812, is surrounded by mountains, more lakes and a small-town vibe at its core. With ample natural beauty, Kamloops is an ideal destination for most outdoor activities and offers an excellent golf destination with 10 different courses and seven championship-quality facilities, like the Sun Rivers Golf Resort.
Golfers may prefer staying at the cozy South Thompson Inn and Guest Ranch with its golf packages — I recommend the river-view rooms. However, I prefer the charming Plaza Hotel with its methodical 70-year-old elevator and proximity to the city’s historical center. The Kamloops golf season begins in late-March and runs until early November.
Another regional stay worth noting is the Quaaout Lodge, just outside of Chase along Highway 1 (about two hours south of Kamloops). The hotel is owned and operated by the Little Shuswap Indian Band, and as legend has it, the 26-time fancy dance champion, Elder Ernie Philip, still wows crowds around dinnertime.
Agents should know that Thompson Okanagan is a desert that gets quite cold in the winter, hot in the summer and may be the best keep secret in Western Canada.
Thompson Okanagan Tourism
Plaza Heritage Hotel
Written by Devin Galaudet
Originally published by TravelAge West
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