Rocky Mountain Road Trip Part 2: Nelson to Naramata

Nelson to Osooyos: 262.45km

Soundtrack: I Drove All Night, Cyndi Lauper

Road Snack: Buxom Okanagan apples, 1.5 kilos of Costco trail mix (mostly down to the gross raisins)

Nelson, BC is true hippie headquarters. As you enter the core, there is a significant increase in yoga studios, Birkenstocks, a surplus of tie-dye, transients and stranded and broke twentysomethings with guitars and huskies.

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We found a perfect launching pad in the Adventure Hotel on Vernon street. The heritage building has been updated with a serious dose of cool since its 1913 heyday. The walls are corrugated iron, the ceilings are clockwork orange and the hallway carpet is very Andy Warhol. The lobby counter has bike cog wheels embedded in its surface, there’s a “Hogwash Station” for bikers out back and Kootenay coffee is at the ready in the commons room.

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It’s architectural design mag-worthy—and the rooms have a slick Euro-feel with exposed brick and ducts and  super-sexy en suite showers. And, to boot, you can order a 6-pack of Hell’s Gate Lager for $10 from the room service menu.

My sister had gushed endlessly about Nelson—so much so that she admitted it was her second choice to live, if Banff didn’t win out on the mountain scene. I get it. The waterfront trail winds around a tiny marina on the western arm of Kootenay Lake and sits in the shadow of the Selkirk mountains. The parks are lush and the soccer pitches have dip nets (to retrieve soccer balls that get ambitiously hoofed into the lake). Kim and I walked the trail and took in the parade of organic-looking locals with equally happy dogs, kamikaze kids on BMX bikes and groovy skateboarders on longriders. You can feel the community hug in this place.

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From the waterfront, the town itself is San Francisco-like with monster hills (total calf-burners on my morning run). Note: don’t buy a standard in these parts. The main drag is rich with gear shops, yoga this-and-that and relaxed indie coffee joints. After a substantial wander and some fawning over Patagonia shells and fleece we were drawn to the stately Hume Hotel with its landmark neon sign beckoning.

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It was dark and moody inside, but in a good way. Two greyhound-thin guys in even skinnier skinny jeans played unobtrusive jazzy numbers. The place was packed. I felt like we had just stepped into 1898 (the year it was built) with our horse tethered outside while we ordered pints of Nelson Brewing Company Harvest Lager. A crab and artichoke dip became dinner as we had spent the day grazing on trail mix and had bypassed an appetite hours ago. However, had they brought out another terrine of dip, I would have been game.

Back at our Adventure Hotel, Kim and I set to work re-plotting our trip (again) and turned our bed into a tourist information booth with the stacks of brochures we had collected for the Okanagan. We could hardly stay awake until 9pm—I know, a world record. The two of us haven’t gone to bed at 9 since we were probably 7-years-old.

Kim was eager to get going in the morning, hoping that we’d make it to the desert and be able to enjoy a few solid hours lakeside in the afternoon sun. We hit up a nearby coffee shop called Oso Negro (Kiley insisted we go for “e-balls” and dandelion lattes) and had total guilt pangs about not travelling with a reuseable mug. The shop actually has a central rinsing station, and, everyone except us got the memo about a decade ago. We queued up with at least two dozen Oso Negro die-hards. I spied the e-balls that Kiley got glassy-eyed talking about, but, the baseball-sized ball of 100% peanut butter rolled in seeds and dunked half in chocolate looked like protein overkill to me. Too rich for my morning palate. Instead, Kim and I went for the carb-load of pineapple raisin and white chocolate-raspberry muffins that could double as doorstops.

The dandelion latte was a curious brew. I’m glad we tried it, but, I don’t need to try it again. It had a savoury finish, almost like chicken broth. But, it’s the kind of drink you keep sipping because it’s so weird and you need to keep trying to establish the exact taste profile until it’s finished.

Fuelled with dandelions and muffins (cake in disguise) we were ready to take on the next leg of the race—to Osooyos. The scenery changed dramatically every twenty minutes as we drove deep into the Arrid Extra Dry landscape. The ponderosa pines of the Kootenayshad thinned out long ago and the few trees we saw now were scrubbier. Remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree? Yes, a stretch of those. We had entered the zone of bleached grasses, taupe monotones and possible tumbleweeds. I started craving cans of pork n’ beans and Maker’s Mark in a metal cup by a blazing fire. It was the wild west, indeed.

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In Fort Greenwood (blink-gone) we passed Dr. Van Hulligan’s Circus of Calamities. The gold rush-esque town was dotted with trapper cabins, collapsing barns and saloon-ish bars. We drove a little faster through these parts half-expecting to see Dawg the Bounty Hunter or Christopher Walken.

Driving, driving, driving. On high alert for burrowing owls, Ogopogo and Sasquatch.

  • Next Nelson visit: All Seasons Cafe—a back alley bistro dishing out ‘left coast inland cuisine’ like bison spring rolls
  • Sandon: a silver mine ghost town. I like the mingling of abandonment, history and creepy.

Osooyos, BC

Selling features: 2, 039 hours of sunshine, less than 318mm of rain, average summer temperature of 28 degrees Celsius with a low of 1.3 degrees Celsius in the winter

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Similar to Spain in climate and terrain, residents have adoped an Iberian-style in buildling construction as well. Dubbed “Canada’s Warmest Welcome,” it totally was—the temp was 26 degrees. Like water diviners, Kim and I drove immediately to the two waterfront hotels we had earmarked online. Realizing the sun was going to set at the Coast Hotel versus Walnut Beach Resort, our decision was easy. Plus, Coast had cute complimentary Q-tip packages, in-room Starbucks Verona and a pancake machine in the breakfast room. By 2pm we were Q-tipped, on lounge chairs and well under the spell of Osooyos Lake (Canada’s warmest fresh water lake).

Our books went largely unread. We stared and strolled the shore, pausing to chat up a retired couple from the UK who were like sage owls in their slick of coconut oil, dispensing snowbird advice. Osooyos was kinda like stepping into the movie Cocoon. Everyone was over the age of 60, limber and as tanned as Bob Barker.

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Osooyos highlights included a drop in to Nk’mip Cellars—Canada’s first aboriginal owned and operated winery. The 2012 Syrah blend was pure plum and cedar and the perfect sundowner with wedges of maple cheddar.

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In the morning we tracked down the geo-marvel that is the Spotted Lake. Just eight kilometres from Osooyos on Highway 3, the sacred lake is a jawdropper with its crystallized “spots” of minerals. Dense deposits of magnesium sulfate, calcium, sodium sulphate, silver and titanium create multi-coloured rings, especially in the summer. It’s outer spacey and a fine display of Mother Nature’s creative side.

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Oliver, BC

This is the northern tip of the American Great Basin Desert (which extends to Mexico) and the south end of the Okanagan Valley– the trampoline jump to the Golden Mile. A map pinpointing the location of every winery in this area looks something like a Bingo card dabbed by a drunkard. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the proximity and clever names. Burrowing Owl was a must for me because they’re generous to our feathered friends. While Cariboo Brewing Company donates 10% to restoring forests ravaged by the Asian Pine Beetle, Burrowing Owl puts 100% of their tasting donations to owl rehab restoration projects. I like drinking responsibly!

All the reds we tried at Burrowing Owl were silky and big on the barnyard mouth-feel. Or, as the tasting notes suggested, “bacon and pastry crust.”

See Ya Later Ranch—the playful dog-centered winery donates 100% to the local SPCA. They sell everything from neon dog ponchos to dog-friendly peanut butter to a snappy Brut. We scooped a Jimmy My Pal chard/pinot gris but were quite sorry that we weren’t hungry enough for a patio perch lunch overlooking the rolling wine terrace. For those in the hood: How about their Brie LT? Brie, basil pesto, garlic confit and tomato with a fennel balsamic reduction.

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Oliver Twist—check out the cool vintage cars! The winemakers here are young bucks—35 and mad for the vintage hot rods. The Summer Passion Rose would be a fun pour to swirl on a June afternoon.

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Black Widow—the name and branding sucked us in naturally. The 2012 Phobia was a punch of black raspberry and seductive throughout. The port was a complete surprise. Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, this one would be a crowd pleaser with a chunk of Fair Trade sea salt-flecked dark chocolate in the mix.

Oh, it was difficult not to go all Sideways, but Kim was driving and I was getting cranked on so many sips. We bypassed Laughing Stock, Misconduct, Howling Buff and Ruby Blues. Silver Sage Winery with their infamous bottles with submerged hot peppers would have to await a future Golden Mile redux. Same with Hester Creek and their wood-fired potato and truffle pizza and Tuscan sausage-stuffed calzones.

Canada’s wine capital of 20 wineries in 20km is rather dreamy. Unfortunately, wine tours with shuttles demand $60++ bucks a person. Instead, we reasoned, for $120 you can have one dedicated taster and drive away with five decent bottles.

And, it was my birthday after all. So, as dedicated taster, we swooped in on one last winery: THERAPY. It seemed appropriate.

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Part of the Naramata Bench, the labels here are completely Freudian, of course! I quickly chose a syrah, the best accompaniment for our soak in the tub later that night at the Naramata Heritage Inn and Spa.

Backtrack: Our original plan was to stay in Penticton, possibly in a yurt (inconveniently located just feet from the highway). That was a blow-out. It’s just a big box city, clogged with traffic and with zero charm. The only saving grace was that the tourist info centre also had a wine tasting area. The staff there directed us to Naramata (Therapy also had a guest house, but, it was rather remote and we wanted to park the car for the day and get into the vino purchases).

The Naramata Heritage Inn was formerly a girls school house built in 1908. With just 12 rooms, the hotel is intimate, complete with creaking stairs and wonky hallways. I love sleeping in history– a byproduct of owning a 153-year-old home I suppose.

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We stopped at the local general store and picked up some of Penticton’s Cannery beers (the only praise-worthy thing about Penticton—especially the Anarchy Ale and Naramata Nut Brown), Old Dutch jalapeno chips and another block of cheese. Kim and I were born to picnic, indoors and out.

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The Inn, with the soaker tub and nostalgia oozing out of the floorboards was pure Romance 101. The rooms had the requisite plush robes and Aveda products to pimp out the bath with a dose of rosemary-mint. There was even a bottle of lavender linen spray.

But first, before the lounging—some sweat. We snaked up through the vineyards to the Kettle Valley Rail Trail and hiked to Little Tunnel (a 4.4km one-way jaunt). The views were surreal, and despite our mutual imaginary bear sound detection (and rattlesnake warnings!) we were left unscathed and seriously moved by the elevation and view over the Naramata bench.

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Day’s end: The Naramata Inn balcony. The sky had threatened us with rain and then shifted. Near the wharf the Damson purple clouds softened with sunset. We read a few chapters of our books (mostly out loud to each other), shared some olives, bites of cheese and unmatchable stillness.

And then, a soak and some Therapy. The best start to 40, I’d say.

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