Great food and wine, scenery and sunshine without flying anywhere is my idea of a weekend getaway.
And even better, somewhere without crowds – at my age I can barely tolerate lining up for a plane let alone wait for a flight of wine tastings while trudging from one busy winery to another. An invitation to Osoyoos was just the ticket. I was happy to discover that despite the recent fires in the region, it was business as usual for this tourist destination.
On Highway 3 just northeast of Osoyoos is Spotted Lake, known as Medicine Lake by the First Nations of the Okanagan who own the property. It looks like another planet. Concentrated minerals make large, colourful spots on the lake. For now, park on the side of the road for photo ops – a viewing area is in the works.
Hot, hot, hot
The town of Osoyoos is one of Canada's hot spots. Yes, we really have a desert in Canada, it's the northern tip of the Sonora Desert that ends in Mexico. Speaking of which, we first stopped for Sangria and excellent pulled pork tacos at Spirit Beach Cantina, located in Nk'Mip Resort, close to Spirit Ridge Resort and smack on the beach – a fun hangout to rub shoulders with the locals.
Farm to vine
This was my third stay at the Watermark Beach Resort and by far the best, thanks to chef Adair Scott's "Farm to Vine" menu where just about everything is sourced locally, from pork to peas. It also includes fish – the salmon and arctic char come from the Okanagan.
Fish to farm
Yes, Okanagan sockeye salmon are back in Osoyoos Lake – and arctic char is sustainably fished in closed containment fish farms on land. We started our seven-course menu at Watermark with "potted" salmon, which is the best canned salmon ever, but served from mason jars, followed by grilled filets of the char and sockeye. The land course included Two Rivers Organics bavette (flap) steak and in-house made pork sausages following which we blissfully waddled to bed.
Unfortunately we didn't have time for Watermark's fishing experience. Throughout August you can snag a sockeye with indigenous guides and either barbecue yourself or chef will barbecue on the Watermark's patio. And new this year, book an evening tour with First Nations people on a pontoon boat – you can hop on from the Watermark's beach.
Staying in? Watermark's kitchens are fully equipped and barbecues are included with the villas and penthouses. There's also a communal barbecue area on the pool deck with picnic tables. You can buy local fish from Codfathers in Kelowna and at Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa in Osoyoos. And how about grilling U-pick organic veggies from Covert Farms, at the foot of McIntyre Bluff just north of Oliver.
Before picking, take a 60 minute farm tour of the biodynamic vineyards and vegetable fields in the back of a 1952 red Mercury (book 24 hours in advance). Kids love the wildlife and salmon viewing – and the big bouncy pillow. Back at the farm's lounge and market we sipped organically-grown wines with a charcuterie platter, of course locally sourced and perfectly paired.
Great dining also happens at Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek. With Chef Jeff Van Geest at the helm Miradoro is justifiably recognized as "one of the world's best winery restaurants." The view is as stupendous as its neighbour Terrafina at Hester Creek, which also has a decent Italian menu.
Do take the time to visit the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, which celebrates thousands of years of Okanagan First Nations life, including a reconstructed traditional village, artifacts – and a few live rattlesnakes. Bring binoculars and stroll the observation boardwalks – birders flock here.
If you only have time to visit a few wineries (there are 36 wineries within the Oliver-Osoyoos region), stop at the charming Mooncurser Vineyards, known for its use of interesting and rare grapes that are only grown in a small area of Osoyoos. Love the wine labels.
We had one more stop before heading home. Backyard Farm Chef's Table was expecting us for a cooking demo and lunch. The building isn't easy to find, there's little signage on the funky exterior. But inside is very upscale. "We like to keep it exclusive so no one comes in expecting a sandwich or wine tasting," quipped Van Hooydonk as he butchered arctic char like a ninja. We spent the next three hours sipping wine, eating perfect pan-seared fillets and heavenly pillows of hand-made gnocchi while learning about chef's farm-to-table philosophy, which pervades Osoyoos. We'll be back in August...