For research purposes only, you understand ….

wine

There are few better pleasures to look forward to each day than collapsing onto a comfy sofa in an evening with a glass of vino.  Not a day goes by without hearing on the radio yet another ‘research article’ on whether 1 glass, 2 glasses, no glasses, red glass, white glass, whatever …. are good for your health, prolongs your life, or reduces it considerably.  I’m prepared to take the chance.  I don’t care whether it’s the latest fad or whether there’s proven evidence that drinking a glass a night is bad for you.  I wonder whether there’s been detailed research on the best or worst times of day to succumb ….. maybe I’ll have to volunteer ……

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Anyhow, one of the delights of being in Western Canada is that the Okanagan Valley, located in the south of British Columbia, is home to one of the most prolific wine-growing regions throughout Canada. It’s also a massive fruit-growing region with farmers stands at the sides of roads where you can purchase their mouth-watering produce, or even go in and pick some yourself from their overflowing fruit orchards.  Nestled between the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia, and the world’s only inland temperate forest on the western slopes of the Columbia mountains, it receives relatively low rainfall and enjoys hot temperatures – so attracts over 200 different commercial vineyards where nearly every style of wine is produced, with over 60 different grape varieties.  I’m on a mission to sample each one ….

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Since arriving in Canada, we’ve taken a keen interest in Canadian produce so given that one of the items from our bucket list was to visit a vineyard (or two), we thought we’d take a road trip to the next province and see what all the fuss is about.  For research purposes only, you understand …

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Now, having come from the UK, one of the things about living in Canada that we continuously struggle to appreciate, is the sheer vastness and scale of the country.   What looks like small distances on a map, are actually huge monster drives.  The Okanagan, for example, is fairly ‘close’ to Edmonton at just over 540 miles (870 km) away, taking at least 9 hours constant driving, during which you cross over the time-line, scale the Canadian Rockies, go through at least 3 national parks, traverse 2 mountain passes – witnessing the climate and dramatic scenery changes as you go.  It’s stunning.  Once you hit the Canadian Rockies, it’s virtually just one road too – the Trans-Canada highway – beside which for the most part, you travel alongside the Canadian Pacific Railway line and the huge red CPR freight trains that epitomise Canada.

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Once you reach the Okanagan, there are vineyards and fruit orchards galore.   The terrain reminded us of being in Tuscany in Italy, with huge lakes and rolling vineyards – it’s a beautiful place to visit.  There are local maps detailing where all the vineyards are, and you can drive in and sample their produce – oh, and purchase a few bottles too (it’d be rude not to).  For kids and adults alike, the lakes are superb to swim and play in – crystal clear waters and at various locations, activity platforms harness small zip-lines on which you can throw yourself in the lake.  You need to in those temperatures too ……

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But it’s the road trip through the Rockies and the national parks that is the most spectacular.  If you’re prepared to do some research, you can hunt out various stop-off points along the way which are just hidden off the main Trans-Canada highway – literally, within a few meters too.  Boardwalk trails which not only give you 20 mins to stretch your legs, are within steps of the parking lot, and can see you deep within the forest – walking amidst Giant Cedar trees, many of which are over 500 years old.  Just watch your tank of petrol during the road trip as the distances are so large and the availability of gas stations few and far between – it’s an extremely long walk if you run out!!

So, I’d definitely recommend it.  The road trip, the scenery, the lakes and the wine.  I may have to take a repeat trip …. for research purposes only, you understand …. 🙂

The path less travelled …

Lake Louise

When the scenery is so spectacular constantly, you start to get complacent about seeing ‘yet another stunning view’ of a turquoise coloured lake set amidst fabulous mountain views.  Yet, that’s what you’re up against when travelling south on the Icefields Parkway and down to Lake Louise.

Despite all the hype, Lake Louise was smaller than I anticipated.  It’s a small village and venturing further west, you finally reach the superb glacial lake named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta – the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria (bet you never knew that!).  On arrival at the Lake from the road, and at the eastern end of the shore is the imposing structure of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – one of Canada’s grand railway hotels and built by the Canadian Pacific Railway early in the 20th Century.

Fairmont Lake Louise

Clearly open to tourists, hikers, general public access, as well as hotel guests, it’s a small area attempting to accommodate huge numbers.  In fact, the sheer number of coaches delivering coach load after coach load of visitors just to survey the surroundings was immense to the point of population overload.  You can’t help but feel that Lake Louise has been too successful in gaining such a worldwide reputation that even in the heights of summer (goodness knows what the lure of winter skiing does to overall visitor numbers), but it does detract from the majesty of the place somewhat.

We took a walk along the shoreline from the hotel to just under the glacier, then started to climb up hill for a couple of kilometres.  The tourist numbers rapidly fell away (once the ability to hold a cappuccino in hand whilst taking a shot on a camera proved too challenging with an uphill climb), and only then did you start to get a feel for the real beauty of the place, the quietness, and the fantastic views that can only be achieved with a degree of effort and steadfastness.  Luckily all 3 ‘kids’ were adequately incentivised by the prospect of an ice cream and drink should they manage the ‘circular route’ – a route let me say, that for some bizarre reason was left with my husband reading the map.  Not a normal feature as his navigational abilities are renown – but for completely the  opposite reason!  I’m still not sure what happened, but the 4.2km ‘circular tour’ turned into an 8.7km ‘hike’ – he denies all knowledge and blames the map – however, we made it back to the lakeside where we started, somewhat shattered and with aching limbs and muscles, but all glad we’d made the climb and knowing we’d witnessed something of Lake Louise that the vast majority of transitory visitors fail to experience.

Lake Louise

In the winter, not only is there skiing, but the Canadian national cross-country skiing team train there.  The Lake freezes and there’s the opportunity to skate on the Lake which I bet is superb with the glacier above.

At dinner that evening, we sat next to an older couple from Texas who told us they were travelling from Houston up to Alaska and then a bit of a round trip back down to Texas which would take them a month to complete.  They’d never been to Alaska and that was reason enough to visit – but were stopping off at Lake Louise en route.  They’d stayed nearby 20 years before but had always hankered after staying at the Fairmont – so 20 years later, their wishes came true.  They spent their dinner sat next to us and luckily it didn’t put them off and they offered us a stay in Texas if we ever find ourselves in the vicinity!  That’s one thing to be said for everyone we’ve met whilst in Canada – they are the friendliest and most hospitable set of people I’ve ever come across anywhere else in the world.  They take time to converse, offer advice and will go out of their way to assist – it’s a lesson we could all learn a lot from.

Moving south of Lake Louise, you get the views of Banff National Park (still no moose, bears or wolves), and finally stumble into Banff itself.  The instalment continues …