Two days before we flew to North America, we were at a summer barbeque with my parents’ friends. While catching up with everyone, one of the ladies mentioned that their family friends had just relocated from a few doors down to Kelowna, BC. She asked if we were going through there, on the off chance. T had been in charge of the second half of the route, and he’d debated at length on whether to stop in Kamloops (directly en route), or Kelowna (the prettier alternative). He’d decided on the latter, so was really interested to hear that they loved the place.
After our incredible week in the national parks, we both felt a pang of sadness as we headed south towards Vancouver. Kelowna had almost been forgotten in my internal itinerary, because how could anything compare to where we’d just been? Yet as we approached Kelowna, the mountains began again, and we found ourselves winding down through the valley on an approach to the town.
The highway system is a godsend and as T powered down the road, excited to learn more about this place, we noticed a Sheriff in the right-hand lane. Panic set-in of course and we slowed, pulling in behind the car. The next twenty minutes consisted of hilariously dramatic slow-downs by similarly panicked drivers as they realised a Sheriff was in the midst, and we watched as ballsy racer-boys transformed tosuddenly driving with caution.
We soon reached the Day’s Inn, our first motel experience. After settling in, we drove towards town and discovered an amazing Japanese eatery called Umé. A definite food highlight of the trip, the service and atmosphere were extremely homey, and the food was quick and absolutely delicious. Frankly, we’d move to Kelowna just so that Umé could be our regular spot.
In the morning, the days of rainstorms cleared to make way for sunshine, and we had breakfast at a truly unique spot. Little Hobo Soup & Sandwich shop is the kind of place where they shake your hand and make a point of learning your name. The menu is personalised, full of favourites and the portions are generous but exceptionally well executed. There’s a real joy around the place, especially in the open kitchen, and the waitresses walk round with pots of refill coffee. I felt truly welcome, and I realised that this was probably the first time I’d ever felt this way, away from home. T was spoiled rotten by the ladies, which of course he loved, and he had a Veggie Hash: "the best breakfast I have ever had".
Dangerously full, we took a walk through downtown and realised what it was that felt different. The streets had trees running down them, they were wide and open and there were no high rises. Buildings were four storeys and no further, and all the store fronts held independent names. These were filled with bookshops, cosy cafes and quirky shops. While there was of course a Tim Horton’s, Kelowna’s version occupied a vintage cinema.
Reaching the waterfront, the beautiful view of Okanagan Lake sealed the deal. This was it. Hundreds of small yachts and cruisers lined the harbour, with bars and restaurants sitting on the water. A large wire structure of a bear sat prominently near the walkway, signalling the roots of this town, as Kelowna translates as ‘Grizzly Bear’ in the First Nations’ language.
Life centres around this patch of water, you can see how the day would begin and end here in the summer, and chilly snow-filled walks around it would be enjoyed in the winter. Up in the surrounding valleys are dozens of vineyards, as the Okanagan area is famous for its wine. They offer tours and most have their own provenance restaurants, with dishes designed to compliment their wine.
Imagine the life you could lead here on this beautiful lake, wine aplenty and Banff National Park just 5 hours away - the perfect weekend break. The pace is slower, people genuinely laugh and smile more. No place is devoid of problems, believe me I’m sure Kelowna has its fair share, but life balance seems to be just that – balanced. When can we go?