In my dream, I’m pedalling among the vines in Tuscany. I’m riding alongside my fiancée, with warm, fresh bread in the bicycle basket, and a bottle of wine poking out from under a red and white checkered cloth. We glide over rolling green hills, along neat rows of vineyards, with the fragrant warm wind in our hair, our villa in the distance.
It’s a dream that remains out of reach. But British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is not: A four-hour drive, or one-hour flight, from Vancouver, it’s a perfect substitute for my food, bike and wine fantasy.
We start at chef Rod Butters’s Raudz, a busy but relaxed bistro in Kelowna, specializing in local, organic flavours. After artisanal cheese, asparagus tart, grilled flat iron bison with wild mushrooms, and a rich dessert tray, I’m twitching with joy. Chef Butters’s dishes have firmly put aside any yearning for Italian staples.
Energized, I’m ready to ride. For that, we turn to big-hearted local Ed Kruger and his Monashee Adventure Tours, which has been operating cycling winery tours for 18 years. Luckily, Ed has hybrid, electric-assisted bikes: Rolling hills can be fun, but the goal is wine and gorgeous countryside, not exercise. These Giant hybrids have two rechargeable batteries and three modes of assist: eco, normal and sport. Once engaged, it feels like a parent’s hand pushing me along, providing a welcome boost up steep hills – which is all the more appreciated when my storage compartment gets heavy with wine bottles picked up along the way.
Whooping down the hills and waving at passersby, we make our way to Gray Monk Estate Winery, where we enjoy a terrific lunch on the busy patio of the Grapevine Restaurant, overlooking the lake. With a newly acquired bottle of pinot noir, we hybrid pedal up a hill (effortlessly passing confused and exhausted road bikers) to Ex Nihilo Vineyards, where owners Jeff and Decoa Harder share the signature wines they make for the Rolling Stones, including Sympathy for the Devil Icewine.
After a day of cycling and wine tasting, my fiancée and I return to Sparkling Hill – the resort of dazzling Swarovski crystal fame, near the Predator Ridge golf course – to hop between designer steam rooms and saunas, swim in the infinity pool, and take long baths under twinkling LED lights in our room. The glowing red fireplace in our room is made of delicate crystals. With a champagne couples massage, fine wine and dining, romance flourishes.
And while we don’t have medieval villas, we do have the clock tower of the Mission Hill Family Estate piercing the summer sky. After lounging on the estate’s thick lawn, walking around imported centuries-old Italian fountains and listening as the imported handcrafted French bells toll, we take a Legacy Tasting Tour with sommelier Mike Lee, letting Mission Hill’s 2005 Oculus vanquish any doubts that B.C. reds aren’t world-class. While we dine at the Terrace Restaurant – a highlight of the weekend’s gourmet adventure – the sun explodes through the early-evening clouds, casting a wild pink glow across the sky, lake and vines. Even our servers pull out their phones to snap photos, as the clouds begin to dance with colour, just like the Northern Lights.
I could feel the sigh of satisfied souls all across the valley.
Robin Esrock is the host of the OLN/CITY-TV series Word Travels. You can find him online at moderngonzo.com.