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Calgary has it’s Stampede, Banff lays claim to Lake Louise and the rising Canadian Rockies, but head just west of there and you land smack into a wonderful valley called Okanagan in British Columbia. The Okanagan Valley is wedged between two mountain ranges (Columbia and Cascade) and painted with orchards and vineyards that line the long, meandering Okanagan Lake, which travels southward toward Washington State. Canadians seem to know all about this place (natch), but the rest of us? Not a clue. And I think the Canadians like it that way.

Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia

This wasn’t my first time visiting Okanagan Lake. My first visit was when I was dating Steve five years ago. Color me so shocked to find all those vineyards lined up as grids all along the valley, and the orchards of apples that stretch from Kelowna–the main city in the valley–up into the hills.

The weather is very mild compared to the rest of Canada, which I realize is not saying much. The speed is slow like you would expect in an area that attracts retiring Canadians who consider themselves snowbirds, but not snowbirdy enough to dip their toes into the United States. In fact, living in Okanagan Valley is much more tolerable than, say Montana, which though certainly south of Canada isn’t a place where you’d want to winter.  It’s all relative, you know.

Vineyards in Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

I’ll state the obvious here: water sports are aplenty and a person has no trouble finding their preferred watercraft. There’s also the Jazz Festival every September, and winery after winery. I’m not talking a handful of wineries–but oodles of wineries. Sure, there are some smallish operations, but there are also the more well-known Inniskillin, Mission Hill and Jackson-Triggs. And with wineries you’ll naturally find award-winning restaurants. Oh, the restaurants! (Can we retire here, sweetie?  Just wonderin’. Oh wait, I forgot we were retiring in Panama. Maybe the Okanagan Valley can be the Summer home.)

Say “cheese!”

In between our decadent winery meals we returned to one of our favorite lesser-known points of interest: The Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan, Inc.in Kelowna.To get there you take a road that serpentines up one of the highest hills overlooking the lake and where you can still see the remnants of charred trees from the firestorm of 2003 that burned over 60,000 acres.

At Carmelis you simply must sample the cheeses, buy some goat cheese and crackers to take back to your hotel room and especially don’t miss the goat’s milk ice cream. It’s totally worth the calories.  (In fact, everything in the Okanagan Valley seemed to be worth the calories, so bring pants with an elastic waistband.)

Speaking of that elastic waistband…

Tim Horton’s and I are just taking a break from each other

On our last day in Kelowna we decided to do something absolutely crazy and not have breakfast at Tim Horton’s. (Tim Horton’s was the Yin to our Yang of decadent and pricey lunches and dinners at wineries.) So instead of our usual breakfast sandwich and donut at Tim’s we found the Marmalade Cat Cafe where you smell the tea brewing as soon as you walk through the door and where their breakfast sandwiches are, well, look at this:

The best breakfast place in town (Sorry Tim!)

The Okanagan Valley isn’t a one-note region. You don’t have to drink wine, enjoy jazz, water ski or even collect a pension check to find your niche here. Hey, I’d keep coming back just for that goat cheese. It was my second trip to the area and I still feel like I haven’t fully realized everything there is to enjoy, so I’m going to keep the idea of a summer home alive with Steve. (And sorry all my Canadian friends–I just let the cat out of the bag about the Okanagan Valley.)

More photos here. Click on any of them and it will take you to a slide show for better viewing. Everything looks yummier with a black background anyway, doncha think?