Just south of the High Country on Hwy. 97, the arid Okanagan Valley, with its long chain of crystal-blue lakes, is the ideal destination for freshwater-sports enthusiasts, golfers, skiers, and wine lovers. Ranches and small towns have flourished here for more than a century; the region's fruit orchards and vineyards will make you feel as if you've been transported to the Spanish countryside. Summer visitors get the pick of the crop -- at insider prices -- from the many fruit stands that line Hwy. 97. Be sure to stop for a pint of cherries, homemade jams, and other goodies.
An Okanagan-region chardonnay won gold medals in 1994 at international competitions held in London and Paris. In 2000, several other Okanagan vintages picked up quite a number of medals at international competitions. And more than 100 other wineries produce vintages that are following right on their heels. Despite these coveted honors, the valley has only recently begun to receive international publicity. Most visitors are Canadian, and the valley isn't yet a major tour-bus destination. Get here before they do.
Many retirees have chosen the Okanagan Valley as their home for its relatively mild winters and dry, desert-like summers. It's also a favorite destination for younger visitors, drawn by boating, water-skiing, sportfishing, and windsurfing on 128km-long (80-mile) Okanagan Lake. The town of Kelowna in the central valley is the hub of the province's winemaking industry and the area's largest city.