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Scenic Naramata overlooks Lake Okanagan

On the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake, quaint and quiet Naramata is teeming with orchard boughs heavy with sweet, ripe fruit, award-winning wineries, and a relaxing demeanor most urbanites only dream of

If you were anywhere else and your friends dropped words like Laughing Stock, Misconduct and Therapy, chances are you might be hangin' with the wrong crowd.

However, in the delightful rural hamlet of Naramata, you're apt to enthusiastically welcome the conversation; truth is — they're just three of over 20 wineries on the renowned Naramata Bench.

Getting to and Around Naramata

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Bike along the scenic routes at Naramata (Image: Don Weixl)

Located 417 kilometres from Vancouver, via either Hwy 5 & 97C or Hwy 3 & 97, Naramata is a scenic wine region that marches, or rather, saunters to the beat of its own drum.

Here, life in the slow lane is fully embraced (Naramata was recently selected for an international Cittaslow designation), you can bike (check out Sun N' Sup for an electric pedal-assist, beach cruiser or mountain bike rental and Three Blind Mice Trails for mountain bikers), hike, walk, eat, swim (Manitou Park & Beach), sip, and savour to your heart's content.

Some wineries offer accommodations, or you can opt for the hop-on hop-off OK Wine Shuttle. Ride all day for $45 with no need to pre-book.

Take the short drive north of Penticton (16 km) along Naramata Road to enter the village, where well-travelled country roads, bountiful orchards, and world-class viticulturist's grapes stake their claim on roughly 100 acres of gently sloped land.

Idyllic Okanagan Lake is the region's eye candy, the perfect backdrop for sunsets the colour of pressed grapes. With just over 2,000 residents, Naramata is an unincorporated community, and governed by the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen; Discover Naramata acts as an informal Chamber of Commerce. Check out the 2012 Discover Naramata Visitors' Guide.

Along the Naramata Bench Wine Route

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Naramata Bench Wineries Association produces more than 120,000 bottles annually (Image: Naramata Bench Wineries Association)

At about a 1:100 wineries to residents ratio, wine production from members of Naramata Bench Wineries Association produces between 24,000 and 120,000 bottles annually.

With an extensive selection including big and bold barrel-aged reds, fruit-forward whites, fruit and ice wines (not to mention sparkling), there's no shortage of elegant and powerful picks for any palate.

Great wines are not necessarily of the vine, as is the case at Elephant Island Orchard Wines. It specializes in wines made from fruits other than grapes. Your experience at this 6,000-case winery should begin with tastings in its tree-shaded courtyard.

At Poplar Grove Winery (one of the original five wineries on the Bench), a boutique cheesery offers luscious and creamy Camembert and blue cheeses for pairing. In addition to its six core wines, Poplar Grove produces exclusive wine for its wine club members, and will soon do the same for diners at its new restaurant, The Vanilla Pod. Tuck into inspired tapas like sushi pizza: panko-breaded sushi rice base, topped with Ahi tuna, wasabi mayo, and avocado.

Small lot Nichol Vineyard (home of the oldest Syrah vineyard in Canada) continues the handcrafted tradition of making premium, limited vintage wines. Chic and funky labels rock the bottles at Ruby Blues Winery (originally Ruby Tuesday after the famed Rolling Stones tune) with red stilettos and ribbons. Its newly released 2011 Strawberry Heels is a red blend with hints of strawberry for summer sipping.

Red Rooster has an adopt a row program, full-bodied reserves suitable for storing away, and of course, the naked guy, Frank the baggage handler (lower your eyebrows, he's the lawn statue).

Where to Nosh, Nibble and Imbibe

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Enjoy a vineyard spread at one of the many wineries (Image: Naramata Bench Wineries Association

Several wineries have menus offering snacks, light lunches to gourmet dining, not to mention local faves like Camp Creek Station pub, with a Kettle Valley Railway theme. (The Kettle Valley Railway Trail is part of the 18,000-kilometre Trans Canada Trail system with the Naramata stretch starting from the trailhead high in the hills at Chute Lake).

Roadside stands can't be beat: buy fresh fruit at Naramata’s Sunfresh Cooperative Growers Packing House (in the village) and for farm-fresh produce and for a grow it, bake it or make it policy, visit Penticton's Farmers' Market (100 Block of Main Street).

Enjoy fresh, prepared foods every Wednesday at Naramata’s Community Market at Wharf Park or pick some non-sprayed blueberries at Sutherland Blueberry Farm & B&B.

Kick-start your morning at The Village Grounds Coffee House (with 49th parallel coffee beans and baked goods from scratch). Props to its sandwiches built with their own rustic artisan and focaccia breads. Quaff a full-flavoured craft brewed ale or lager at The Cannery Brewing Co., a small, local microbrewery complete with tasting room.

Shop Around Town and Accommodations

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The Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa (Image: Tourism BC / Don Weixl)

Naramata's creative bent is strong and growing. For natural fabrics, Shades of Linen Clothing (156 Robinson Ave.) caters to active, comfort-seeking women; glass gifts and jewellery at Carlarry Art Glass (3545-3rd St.); reclaimed wood creations at Plexus Woodworks (780 Gulch Road); pottery at James Hibbert Pottery/Victoria Clayworks (3015 Naramata Rd.); paintings and portraits at Dennis Evans Art Studios (680 Robinson Ave.); or be your own artist and make a bracelet!

Collect a different bead at each Naramata Bead Trail map location — wineries, small businesses and tourist attractions. Pick up bracelets at the Penticton Visitor Centre (553 Railway St.) or Art Studio & Gallery (3270 Rushbury Place). Don't miss Forest Green Man Lavender farm (620 Boothe Rd.) for luxe kitchen and bath products.

Over 30 varied accommodations punctuate the community from B&Bs and cottage rentals to guesthouses and inns, some tucked among the vineyards and orchards or overlooking Lake Okanagan.  

Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa (Robinson at First St.) includes 12 rooms, the Rock Oven Dining Room, the Cobblestone Wine Bar (share a Hearth Bread platter, celebrating the diverse cuisine of the wine producing regions), and the Heirloom Spa, a full service Aveda Concept Spa.

Rest your head at Sandy Beach Lodge (a restored '40s log lodge), in one of six B&B rooms or 13 deluxe modern log cabins: a secluded 400-foot beachfront, heated outdoor pool and hot tub, two flood-lit tennis courts, canoes and rowboats and more.