Sitting on the sunny patio at Gray Monk Estate winery, I reflected that between the apples, the wine, the liquors and the spa, I was going to have a tough time convincing myself to go home from our team building retreat in Vernon BC. Enjoying everything the region has to offer; warm lakes, dry hot weather, an abundance of fruit and outstanding recreation convinced me the allure of the northern part of Canada’s Okanagan Valley is irresistible.
Historically, fur traders, cattle ranchers and fruit farmers flocked to the valley shaping what is now a thriving district and the inherent natural beauty and surroundings make it a premier, yet easily accessible Canadian destination for all ages.
However, let’s start with the good stuff. Wine. One cannot talk about Vernon without mentioning wine, and if you really want to get serious about the vino, book a tour. While I always enjoy self-driven wine touring (because wine) rather than a rock-paper-scissors competition to determine a designated driver, our group left the driving to MJO Tours who ferried our tipsy selves around! Snacks on the road (to sop up the wine) and lunch are included in the price and you have someone to make sure you get back to your accommodation safely! Our host was MJ herself; charming, funny and full of great tidbits about Okanagan history. Some tours can be customized to your group and ours included stops at a cidery, a distillery and a meadery in addition to four great wineries!
A meadery you say? Yes, that kind of mead – it’s not just for Tyrion Lannister! You can taste the drink which lubricates the characters of Game of Thrones at Planet Bee. With 15 different types of honey to sample, educational tours including a glass fronted hive and numerous honey based products, it is much more than mead! Another tour highlight was the Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery, a family run establishment producing fine fruit liquors and hard spirits. I was impressed by the steam punk vibe of the distilling equipment and appreciative of the variety of taster sized bottles available for sale – guess what my children’s teachers are getting for Christmas? My personal favorite non-wine stop on our tour was BX Express, a 3rd generation family farm that has expanded to producing traditional dry ciders in addition to their crisp fresh apples.
I’m told one cannot survive on wine alone (believe me, we tried!) so we set out to test the recreational waters on a paddleboard. Head over to the Kalavida Surf shop, rent yourself a Stand Up paddle board, then for fun, place bets on who can stay up the longest! The feeling of successfully standing up on a slab of fiberglass, precariously perched on the lake is exhilarating! A great workout, you get to see the lake and valley from a different perspective, like a water bird paddling serenely along (while hopefully remaining perfectly dry). The folks at Kalavida are pros at teaching you to get your board legs and tremendously friendly too. Our fab guide Lina even obliged us with a demonstration of yoga on a SUP while 6 months pregnant! If she can do it with a bun in the oven, it gave the rest of us hope! We managed to dismount without getting wet and called it a win!
Hitting a golf course in the valley is necessary for aficionados, but if you’re an indifferent putter like me, you’ll need some help. Since we were staying at Predator Ridge (which has fabulous two bedroom suites just perfect for families and is pet friendly too!) naturally we headed down to check out their spectacular, world renowned golf course. Lessons at Predator Ridge are overseen by former LPGA tour pro A.J. Eathorne who led our Swing Like a Girl lesson. We left her after an informative and hysterical hour of swatting at balls with a much better appreciation of the dynamics of a golf swing, a few choice new phrases, and (fingers crossed) an improved golf score! Have a budding Jordan Spieth in your family? Predator Ridge offers many lessons and camps for kids starting with Swing Like a Kid (for kids aged 5-9), where they learn course etiquette, how to hold the clubs, swing, and putt, all while having fun at the game.
After all that exercise, we needed to recharge so Sparkling Hill Resort beckoned. Our true feelings about the sheer luxury and spoiling one gets at Sparkling Hill are clear – it’s our happy place. The KurSpa is one of the best and includes two pools, hot tub, seven spas/saunas, Kneippe pool, serenity room and a tearoom. The perfect way to experience Sparkling Hill is to stay there, where all this is included with your room, however you can purchase a Spa day pass and sneak in a little bit of pampering!
I did eventually convince myself to go home, albeit significantly weighed down. I left with bragging rights for surviving the standup paddleboard lesson dry, an improved golf swing, 20 pounds of apples, gifts from the distillery, and a half case of wine. It’s hard not to leave without a taste for Vernon!