A germaphobe’s guide to a weekend getaway
We’ve all been stuck at home for the better part of a year now. And while home can feel like the safest place to be during a pandemic, a change of scenery really does boost the spirits. Those of us who have been extremely cautious may find the idea of travel stressful right now, but there are many ways you and your family can—and should—safely take a vacation.
In early October, my husband, eight-year-old daughter and I escaped to sunny Osoyoos in B.C.’s Okanagan region for a weekend that already feels like a dream (Where else in the country do you get temperatures of 27 C in October?). So much focus this year has been on what we can’t do because of COVID, but there are plenty of things we still can do to make memories during these challenging times.
Here are some travel safety tips and a list of things you’ll feel completely comfortable doing during a stay in Osoyoos…
Janine VerreaultOsoyoos was the perfect destination for our family vacation because we knew we could get there by car in just five hours from Vancouver. While you could easily drive non-stop, we decided to break up the trip, especially with an eight-year-old in tow. Our first pit stop was in Manning Park (about two hours from Vancouver) to stretch our legs and get some fresh air at Lightning Lake (pictured). This 708-square-kilometre park has more than enough space for distancing and if you need to use the washroom, there are multiple separate outhouses with mountain air flowing through them. Our other stop was in Princeton (about 3 hours from Vancouver) where we had a quick drive-thru lunch, which we felt safe eating in the privacy of our own car.
COVID TRAVEL TIP: Bring a “COVID bag” and keep it in the vehicle with you. We packed masks, plenty of hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes and personal wipes so we were ready for any unsanitary situations on the road. Also, remember to pack water and snacks to avoid unnecessary stops.
WHERE TO STAY
Watermark Beach ResortOur favourite place to stay in Osoyoos is the Watermark Beach Resort. Located on the west shore of Osoyoos Lake, the Watermark offers luxurious accommodations and breathtaking lakefront views. We have always stayed in the main hotel, but this time we were lucky enough to have our own beachfront townhome. Each townhome has its own parking spot right at its front door and its own separate entrance. This means you won’t be walking through lobbies and sharing elevators with other guests.
That's not to say that you won't feel safe in the main building, too. In the hotel lobby, staff and guests are separated by Plexiglass shields for check-in, there are numerous hand sanitizing stations throughout the property and hotel key cards are instantly disinfected when you drop them off.
Your townhome suite comes complete with a dishwasher as well as a washer and dryer so rest assured you can keep up your cleaning regimen just as you would at home. Due to COVID, housekeeping does not enter your room during your stay, so once you’ve checked in, you can take comfort in knowing that your household will be the only ones in your space.
COVID TRAVEL TIP: Many hotels have had to push their check-in times due to stricter cleaning protocols as a result of the pandemic. Make sure you know when you’re able to access your room so you can settle in as soon as you arrive. The Watermark’s check-in time is currently 5 p.m.
WHAT TO EAT
Janine VerreaultBecause your suite is furnished with a fully equipped kitchen, a spacious dining room, a large patio table and its own BBQ, there really is no need to eat out if it makes you nervous. The local AG Foods store and government liquor store are located directly behind the townhouses, so grab some groceries, plus a few bottles of Okanagan wine, and you can sit back and enjoy meals on your own private deck as you look out on those lakefront views.
Takeout is another safe and easy dining option. The Restaurant at Watermark always serves up exceptional meals and we picked up dinner twice and feasted on everything from tuna tartare and steak sandwiches to sticky BBQ pork ribs and a lemon tart with toasted meringue for dessert (pictured).
The Watermark also houses a Boston Pizza, so if you’re looking for a more casual meal, pizza night on the deck will hit the spot (and we can’t be the only ones who indulge in the guilty pleasure of the Spicy Perogy pizza once in awhile).
COVID TRAVEL TIP: If you’re nervous about takeout containers, replate your meals on the dishes provided by the hotel.
WHAT TO DO
Yes, you could lounge on your beachfront deck all day and have a perfectly wonderful vacation, but there is so much that you can still safely experience in Osoyoos during the pandemic.
Go to the beach
Janine VerreaultThe beach is literally steps away from your townhouse, so pack up some towels, water, sunscreen and hand sani and head down for a relaxing day in the sand. While Gyro Beach (slightly north of the townhouses, directly in front of the main hotel) can get a little busy, there is plenty of shoreline where you can safely distance from other groups.
Get out on Osoyoos Lake
Janine VerreaultOne of our favourite activities on this trip was kayaking. We were able to rent a couple of doubles from the Watermark and spent a morning paddling our daughter around the calm lake. If there was a moment on the trip that felt like a complete escape from the world, this was it: the clear water, the warm sun, the cool breeze (but yes, we Lysoled the paddle handles first).
Hit the pool
Watermark Beach ResortThe pool is one of my daughter’s favourite places to play at the Watermark and for very good reason: there’s a waterslide! Kids can spend hours climbing the stairs and spiraling down into the water (all that stair-climbing also ensures that they’ll sleep well at night). The pool, slide and hot tub area do get busy, so get there as soon as it opens at 9 a.m. and you’ll be able to secure a section of loungers to yourself. The chairs are all spaced out and you are not permitted to move them, ensuring that guests keep their distance.
Do a wine tasting
Janine VerreaultYes, you can still enjoy a wine tasting during the pandemic. We decided to make the short trip from Osoyoos to Oliver (about a 30-minute drive) to visit Covert Farms Family Estate, a fourth-generation, family-run, 650-acre organic farm, vineyard and winery.
When we arrived, we were asked to sign in, which let us know right away that COVID protocols were being followed. The Private Grand Reserve Epicurean Tasting takes place on the winery’s gorgeous, airy patio and our table was at least 15 feet away from any other guests. Our guide stood behind a Plexiglass shield as she described each bottle, and when not behind the shields, all the staff members were wearing masks.
We had the opportunity to taste six wines from Covert’s award-winning portfolio, including some of their newly certified organic releases, grand reserves and method ancestral sparkling wines. While we wanted to bring home a bottle of each, we ultimately decided on the Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (my favourite) and the Sparkling Pinot Noir (my husband’s favourite and he’s not even a bubbles-lover, which says a lot).
A wine tasting at Covert Farms is perfect for families as they provide an inclusive experience for kids by offering a tasting of two locally made organic juices: this season it was apple and cherry, both of which my daughter sipped back within minutes.
We were also served a beautifully rustic charcuterie board featuring small bites from the farm. The stunning spread included artistinal cheeses, crackers, cured meats, homemade pickles, olives marinated in herbs from the garden, as well as fresh produce and edible flowers grown just metres from your seat—the true definition of a farm-to-table experience. The tastings are $30 per adult and $7.50 per child, and you should allow about 45 minutes.Janine VerreaultFollowing the tasting, we were treated to a tour of the farm by proprietor Shelly Covert in the back of a ’52 Mercury pickup truck. She stopped often so we could get a closer look at the llamas, sheep, chickens, cows, and a pot-bellied pig named Dalilah that my daughter got to feed. Shelly also showed us Covert Farms’ stunning wedding venue and talked about the history of the farm and its organic and regenerative practices.Janine Verreault
Do a little shopping
Facebook/Osooyoos Home HardwareWe never visit Osoyoos without a trip to the Home Hardware. Yes, the Home Hardware. In a small town like Osoyoos, it serves as a general store and has one of the greatest toy departments a kid could ever imagine. It is a fairly large, multi-level shop, but has very narrow aisles packed to the rafters with everything from gardening supplies to beach gear to gift items. We masked up and headed over at around 2 p.m. one afternoon, but it felt quite busy so we decided to return about a half an hour before closing when we could have more personal space. Our daughter picked up an LOL doll and a Jellycat stuffy giraffe to add to her growing collections.
Go for a walk
Watermark Beach ResortBeing so close to the water, you have to take advantage of the path that winds around Osoyoos Lake. We packed our daughter’s scooter and helmet so she scooted as my husband and I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon stroll exploring the town.
COVID TRAVEL TIP: For every activity we did, we planned ahead, packed the safety supplies we needed, and avoided peak times and crowded spaces (which isn’t hard to do in Osoyoos!)
Janine VerreaultWe always stop in Keremeos (about 30 minutes outside of Osoyoos) on our way home to pick up fresh fruit and veggies from the numerous produce stands that line both sides of Highway 3. This time was no different. The markets are mostly outdoors so we felt completely comfortable as we browsed the incredible selection of seasonal goodies: pumpkins, squashes, apples, tomatoes, garlic and more. Really, the only souvenirs you ever need to bring home from the Okanagan are fresh produce and wine.
COVID TRAVEL TIP: While the markets are mostly outside, you’ll need to pay inside, so make sure you put on a mask before you start shopping.
An annual vacation to Osoyoos has become a tradition for our family and we felt so fortunate to be able to share this special experience together, even during a pandemic.