The Okanagan awaits 

This valley in British Columbia's Southern Interior abounds with food, wine, lakes and cycling

click to enlarge Cyclist at Lookout The Okanagan Rail Trail along Kalamalka Lake near Vernon, British Columbia is punctuated with lookouts perfect for taking in astonishing views. - PHOTO BY STEVE MACNAULL
  • Photo by Steve MacNaull
  • Cyclist at Lookout The Okanagan Rail Trail along Kalamalka Lake near Vernon, British Columbia is punctuated with lookouts perfect for taking in astonishing views.

The Okanagan Valley is hot—literally and figuratively.

This little slice of paradise in British Columbia's Southern Interior has ideal summer weather and an incredible to-do list.

For instance, cycle the Okanagan Rail Trail along gleaming Kalamalka Lake in the north part of the valley, sip wine in the South Okanagan and forage and cook perfect pasta in Kelowna, mid-valley.

click to enlarge forage at Wise Earth Farm Wise Earth Farm is one of the places cyclists forage for ingredients. - PHOTO BY NANCY SHIELDS
  • Photo by nancy shields
  • forage at Wise Earth Farm Wise Earth Farm is one of the places cyclists forage for ingredients.

Okanagan rail trail

After picking up rental bikes at KalaVida Surf Shop, the a-ha moments come thick and fast while cycling the section of the Okanagan Rail Trail that hugs glinting-green Kalamalka Lake.

There are jaw-dropping vistas galore along the 23-kilometre glacial body of water.

My wife, Kerry, and I are tempted frequently to stop our pedalling and simply stare at the view.

There was even a secluded beach we had completely to ourselves for a picnic lunch.

The Kalamalka section is the northern extension of the trail that now spans 50 kms from the Okanagan Lake waterfront in downtown Kelowna up to Lake Country and into Coldstream's Kalamalka Lake Beach.

As the name indicates, the multi-use cycling, hiking, running and walking linear trail is fashioned from the decommissioned CN railway.

Tourism Vernon and KalaVida have latched onto the rail trail section running the entire 23-km west shore of Kalamalka Lake as a tourist-and-local juggernaut.

"I don't think we can overstate its importance," says Ange Chew of TourismVernon.com.

"It's one of Vernon's greatest attractions and it's free. And cycling or hiking the rail trail can be done on its own or combined with the area's other greatest attractions like the lakes, wineries, food and downtown vibe."

click to enlarge Oliver Twist posing with the 1938 Chevrolet pick-up-truck-cum-flower-planter is Oliver Twist Estate Winery owner and winemaker Gina Ferandes Harfman with her kids, Jaxon, 7, left, and Vita, 3. - PHOTO BY STEVE MACNAULL
  • Photo by Steve MacNaull
  • Oliver Twist posing with the 1938 Chevrolet pick-up-truck-cum-flower-planter is Oliver Twist Estate Winery owner and winemaker Gina Ferandes Harfman with her kids, Jaxon, 7, left, and Vita, 3.

Oliver wine country four ways

From McIntrye Bluff to the Canada-U.S. border, from the Black Sage Bench to the Golden Mile Bench and everywhere in between, Oliver and Osoyoos are pure South Okanagan wine region eye candy.

And, yes, the wines from the 43 members of the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association in this 36-kilometre stretch are terroir-driven fabulous as a result.

Kerry and I recently spent the day criss-crossing the region in the sunshine to experience the diversity.

There was minerally Cabernet Franc at River Stone Winery; peach-and-honey, sunshine-in-a-glass Kerner at Oliver Twist Winery; Trebbiano paired with potato-and-truffle-aioli pizza at Hester Creek Winery's Terrafina restaurant; and charcuterie and Chardonnay on the deck at Vin Amite Cellars.

You can certainly copy what we did and have an incredible time or use the new tour planning page at OliverOsoyoos.com to design your own romp through wine heaven.

click to enlarge swim You can also combine your swimming with jumping off rocks at this beach near the trail head of the Okanagan Rail Trail. - PHOTO BY STEVE MACNAULL
  • Photo by Steve MacNaull
  • swim You can also combine your swimming with jumping off rocks at this beach near the trail head of the Okanagan Rail Trail.

Cycle, forage, eat, drink

Without hesitation, chef Michael Buffett of Start Fresh Kitchen declares his pasta-making classes the most popular.

After all, you can't go wrong making tender noodles from scratch with Nonna's recipe and smothering it in a sauce made of tomatoes, herbs and garlic grown at Start Fresh's own Wise Earth Farm.

Paired with an uber-fresh green salad, assembled, of course, of lettuces, vegetables and herbs raised at Wise Earth, and a glass of wine from East Kelowna's Kitsch Winery, it's the ultimate farm-to-table meal.

Start Fresh and Wise Earth have amped up the concept by partnering with Giro Okanagan for the consummate Farm-to-Table by Bike tour of Kelowna.

"The theme may be foraging, but really it's a fun and educational way to ride a bike and strengthen our ongoing connection with the land," says Gord Hotchkiss of Giro.

When you arrive at Start Fresh with your farm haul, you'll do some hands-on work in the kitchen, but will be rewarded with that aforementioned farm-to-table meal, family-style, with wine, if you so choose.

The farm and culinary focus, particularly when combined with wine, has become huge for TourismKelowna.com.

Also check out StartFreshKitchen.ca, and GiroOkanagan.com.

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