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Okanagan's Special Wines

You would expect to find ice wines in British Columbia, but not Bordeaux-style reds. And plenty of lakes -- but not warm, arid summers. Okanagan Wine Country overflows with surprises for both wine lovers and travelers.

A Surprisingly Cooperative Climate

Located just over the U.S. border in the south-central part of the Canadian province, the area is, surprisingly, considered part of the Sonoran desert. In fact, many Canadians retire there for its short, mild winters and warm, dry summers.

While apple, pear, apricot and cherry orchards can still be spotted in the region, some 7,000 acres of Okanagan are now devoted to vineyards. The arid, rough terrain -- with cooling influences from the interior lakes -- creates perfect conditions for growing wine grapes.

Mission Hill, perhaps the best-known of the 80-some wineries in the region, is worth a visit. Enjoy the acclaimed wines and unique combination of baroque and modern architecture. Soak up the panoramic view of the vineyards and Lake Okanagan.

Another area winery that has been bringing home major international awards is Jackson-Triggs. Treat yourself and pick up a bottle of wine produced by this vineyard at your neighborhood Publix.

Fans of serious reds should visit Osoyoos Larose for a taste of its "Le Grand Vin," a Bordeaux-style wine. Happily, the region will please both red and white wine fans, and of course, visitors must sample delicious ice-wines, a local specialty.

These vineyards thrive on the east and west sides of the lakes, starting with Osoyoos Lake in the south and the larger Okanagan Lake farther north, near Kelowna. As one might expect with a region so abundant in lakes, there are plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, from fishing and hiking to boating and bird-watching.

More Adventures in the Area

Train lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike will appreciate the current incarnation of the former Kettle Valley Railway. Railroads gave way to the highways some time ago, but the tracks themselves left a pristine path, along with a number of imposing old wood train trestles standing silently in the forest.

Cyclists should consider the Myra Canyon portion of the Kettle Valley Railway Trail, a 12-mile, round trip bike trail, which provides breathtaking views of Okanagan Lake and the forest below.

Visitors can also explore many of the Okanagan wineries along the "Spirit of 2010" trails. These are a part of a province-wide celebration in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympics (to be held in Vancouver and other BC locations). A number of nearby companies offer bike rentals, as well as guided tours.

There are various ways to get to the Okanagan. Numerous airlines fly directly to the main city of Kelowna -- a thriving city offering art galleries, museums, theatres, fine dining, and shopping.

Or, drive the gorgeous route from the world-class city of Vancouver, which takes about four to five hours. As an alternative, the Okanagan region is about a four-hour drive from Spokane, or a five-hour drive from Seattle. (Don't forget your passport.) This region is one to visit, before the word gets out.

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