Reinventing the Okanagan: The Innkeepers

Several amazing B&Bs in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia

Don't forget the pair of B&B rooms at the Black Widow Winery, described in the "The Vintners" section.Though high-end viticulture is fairly new, agriculture has been the mainstay of the Okanagan economy since the valley's first white settlers arrived in 1859 and planted fruit orchards, and it was agriculture that first drew Southern Ontario native David O'Reilly to the Okanagan in 1990.

O'Reilly Organic Farm B&B

O'Reilly Organic Farm B&B, R.R. #2, Site 15, Comp 7, Oliver (on the east side of Hwy 97 north of town), tel. 250-498-6044,, open mid-Mar–Oct, $120.O’Reilly, who had built a successful business promoting educational materials for musicians, sold the business and took a year to study herbs and work on an herb farm in Ontario.

Then, a slump in land prices allowed him to scoop up 13 acres just outside the town of Oliver.

He planted an acre of medicinal herbs, began organic farming to tend his pear, nectarine, peach, and plum trees, and met Allison, who comes from Salmon Arm, just north of the Okanagan, and bears a passing resemblance to Canadian actress Catherine O'Hara.

Friends visiting O’Reilly at the log cabin–style home he was building were always enchanted by the views across the orchards to a dozen or so vineyards racked up against the red rock cliffs of the far valley wall. Many exhorted him to open up his home as a bed and breakfast.

"I kept stalling and running out of money and putting off finishing the place," said O'Reilly. Then, after three years of long-distance dating, Allison moved in.

"The B&B was a good project to get involved in together," said O'Reilly, "and it gave me a kick in the pants to get the building done."

They opened the O'Reilly Organic Farm B&B for business in 2002, well ahead of the current Green revolution.

At O’Reilly there are no TVs or telephones, but plenty of books and board games (and WiFi). The Seventh Generation paper products in the spacious shared bathroom—with a tub-built-for-two flush against a picture window so you can enjoy sweeping valley views while you bathe—hint that the O'Reillys' commitment to sustainable practices goes beyond organic farming.

It’s something they're happy to discuss over the massive and delicious vegetarian breakfasts. Everything—bread, butter, spelt pancakes, fruit smoothies, cheeses, preserves and, of course, fresh fruit—is either sourced locally or made in-house. Just imagine arriving home each evening to the smell of homemade agave-sweetened goji berry granola baking in the oven.

"I like the idea of having an income in the household," said O'Reilly of his enthusiasm for having transformed his home into part of his business. "Once you get attached to your land, you're always thinking of ways to create avenues of income so that you don't have to leave."

God's Mountain Estate B&B

God's Mountain Estate B&B, 4898 Lakeside Rd., Penticton (south of town, halfway down the east side of Skaha Lake), tel. 250-490-4800,, open year-round, from $159.Sarah Allen, on the other hand, hadn't fully realized that the fixer-upper B&B at God's Mountain Estate she bought in 2005 also came with 115 acres of grapevines she'd have to tend.

This is why callers usually get the answering machine. She truly is, as the message says, out in the vineyard, reclining among the Riesling, pruning and listening to a P. D. James thriller on her iPod.

The irony is, she doesn't even enjoy alcohol. (She has absolutely nothing against guests drinking—and even invites a local catering company to serve wine-themed al fresco banquets on the terrace once or twice a week—she just doesn't personally like the taste.) This hasn't stopped the grapes she supplies to nearby Wild Goose vineyard from being turned into award-winning wines.

A half-Italian, half-Welsh Briton who had spent 30 years on a tiny island off Vancouver, Allen first stumbled across this rambling Mediterranean-style B&B of whitewashed buildings on a high escarpment overlooking Skaha Lake in 2003.

"I basically moved from one island to another," she said, "for there is nothing around us here."

Cupped between ridges to the north and south, with a notch to the east providing views of God's Mountain itself, the property perches above a lonely stretch of coastal road hugging the lake's eastern shore.

Most guests hurtle right past the entrance two or three times until they realize that the unassuming, kiosk-like white rain shelter by a short gravel track marks the turning for the steep driveway (look for the gold street number on that kiosk).

Allen likes it that way. She doesn't advertise, list with the local Chamber of Commerce, or even have a sign by that well-concealed driveway. She doesn't want passersby looking for a place to crash. She prefers guests who seek her out intentionally, relying on word of mouth, her Web site, and repeat customers to stay reliably booked year-round.

While there is WiFi access, said Allen, "there are no TVs, no telephones, and no piped-in music. Just quiet." Her brochure quotes a Spanish proverb: "How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward."

She's still busily fixing up her hidden haven of relaxation, which was formerly more funky than offbeat charming. Its wonderfully hodgepodge and comfortable, built on an open and airy plan in which the guest kitchen (modeled after an ersatz ship captain's quarters) opens into the meandering split-level living area, wide staircases spill from one room to the next and then lead down to the long gravel terrace with sitting nooks, lake views, hot tub, and small swimming pool.

Each room is different; some grandiose, some on the cramped end of cozy. Many repeat guests call well in advance for the coveted Roofless Room, which has a working fireplace, oversized tub, canopied bed, fresh flowers, curtained windows, French doors opening onto a small balcony—and no roof.

The big, comfy bed is equipped with a pillowy duvet, sturdy shingled canopy, and lots of gauzy curtains (along with heavy Venetian blinds to drop in case a rare driving rain should kick up). This is the only room that closes for the winter—though a few die-hard guests request it even in February.

Perhaps it is an acquired taste, but for what it's worth I had the best two nights' sleep of my entire trip in that bed.

Bugs were not a problem; I woke to a bluebird chirping on my bedpost each morning; and I tracked the moon across the sky each evening as the crackling fire lulled me to sleep.


Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in August 2013.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.