Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 12, 2017

The Doug Carrick-designed Predator Ridge overlooks Lake Okanagan.

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Okanagan sparkle

With award-winning wineries, celebrated golf and a luxe new resort spa, the rustic BC Valley gets a touch of polish

Autumn is a brilliant time to pack your clubs and head to the Okanagan. Courses are in optimal condition, the days are crisp and invigorating and the trees are flaunting their fall colours. With almost 200 wineries, a string of championship golf courses, sparkling Lake Okanagan nestled between the moody Monashee and Coastal Mountains and 300 days of sunshine per year, the Okanagan Valley is about as good as it gets.

And it’s getting better: there’s an award-winning spa resort, a new Golf Kelowna online booking system, plus all sorts of accolades for the area’s outstanding courses. And in the fall, you can also celebrate the bounty of the harvest from farmers’ fields, orchards and vineyards all over the fertile valley.

Crystal and cold rooms

With the opening of Sparkling Hill Resort (tel: 877-275-1556; sparklinghill.com; doubles from $210) in May 2010, now you can add some bling to your swing. Owned by Gernot Langes-Swarovski (patriarch of the famed Austrian crystal family), the state-of-the art facility, carved into a hillside overlooking Predator Ridge golf course in Vernon, is unlike any other destination spa resort in Canada. For starters, the organic, airy interiors are embellished with $10 million worth of Swarovski crystals — from chandeliers in the shape of maple leafs to cleverly illuminated “fireplace” sculptures beside the deep soaker tubs in the 152 rooms.

Unlike most North American spas where pampering is the name of the game, Sparkling Hill prioritizes health and wellness above esthetics. The management is convinced that this European concept will catch on with clients. The resort’s 3716-square-metre KurSpa, the largest in Canada, consists of rose, crystal and salt steam rooms and three saunas. The Aqua area features a hot tub, indoor and outdoor salt-water pools and a Kneipp waterway with alternating hot and cool temperatures to stimulate your circulatory and lymphatic systems. In between steams and dips, you can work out in the fitness studio or sip tea and enjoy the view in the Serenity Room.

On the pampering side, Sparkling Hill offers myriad massages, mud wraps, facials and body scrubs. But the KurSpa’s signature treatment is the Cold Sauna, the one and only in North America. It’s supposed to be good for whatever ails you — from alleviating joint and muscle pain and inflammation to improving athletic performance.

Sparkling Hill’s general manager, Hans-Peter Mayr, explained that professional athletes in Europe regularly use this whole-body cryotherapy to speed recovery, increase oxygen and adrenalin levels.

I decided to give it a try. I was instructed to wear a bathing suit, shoes and socks and to remove all jewellery. After having my blood pressures taken, I was outfitted with a headband, facemask and gloves. First I stepped into a couple of cold rooms to acclimatize, then into a chamber chilled to -110°C. The key is to keep moving but not to touch the walls. (Remember when you got your tongue stuck to a Popsicle when you were a kid?) While you’re in the “deep-freeze,” professionals are monitoring you. You can escape anytime you want but the goal is to endure three minutes.

Attack this course

For optimum results, 10 or more big chill sessions are recommended. One was enough to make me feel sufficiently exhilarated to tackle The Ridge Course at Predator Ridge (tel: 888-578-6688; predatorridge.com) just down the hill. I definitely wanted to bring my “A” game here; it was named Best New Course in Canada for 2010 by SCOREGolf Magazine. Architect Doug Carrick’s 7190-yard design seamlessly blends eight completely rebuilt holes of the old Peregrine course with ten new fairways carved through rugged mountain terrain.

“Now we approach phenomenal,” remarked director of golf, Richard Zokol, as our cart climbed up to the number five signature hole of the aptly named The Ridge. From the elevated tees of the gorgeous par-three, golfers inhale panoramic views of the violet-tinged Monashee Mountains, granite rock outcroppings and sparkling Lake Okanagan below. A couple of deer bounded gracefully out of the trees for added effect.

Apart from the drop-dead natural beauty of the place, and a four-and-a-half star rating from Golf Digest, Predator Ridge now boasts 36 holes of golf — the new Ridge and The Predator that has hosted two Skins Games.

Predator Ridge is a member of a new Golf Kelowna (golfkelowna.com) website and booking system that provides golfers with one-stop shopping and savings on stay-and-play packages for 20 local courses.

Try a McBrunker

Just minutes from downtown Kelowna, Tower Ranch (tel: 877-491-8211; towerranch.com) opened in 2009 and was voted one of the Top Ten Best New Courses in the World by Travel + Leisure magazine. Canadian architect Thomas Broom transformed a cattle ranch into a rugged gem covered in golden fescue and fragrant wild sage. Plenty of bunkers, including numerous deep ones fringed with wild grasses, are a McBroom trademark. I’ve been in enough of them to give them my own nickname — McBrunkers.

New age winery

Golf may be your prime reason for visiting the Okanagan, but try to take in a tour of a winery or two. Though I found all those involved in Okanagan’s grape industry to be passionate and innovative, the quirkiest of them all is Summerhill Pyramid Winery (tel: 800-667-3538; summerhill.bc.ca), Canada’s largest certified organic winery.

Owner Stephen Cipes gave up his real estate business in New York and started planting grapes here in 1986. Five years later, his Gabriel vintage won the gold medal at the Chardonnay du Monde event, beating French Champagne. And in 2009, Summerhill was named Canadian Wine Producer of the Year.

But what sets Summerhill apart from any other wineries in the region (and possibly the world) is the scaled down replica of Egypt’s Pyramid of Giza, where all of the wine is stored for at least 30 days. The guide informed me that the “sacred” or perfect geometry of certain three-dimensional shapes, such as domes, arches and pyramids, have enhancing effects on liquids. In blind tastings over a three-year period, testers preferred the wines stored in Summerhill’s pyramid over those stored traditionally. “Mind you,” cautioned the guide, “not even pyramid power can turn something like Baby Duck into a fine vintage.”

A round in the valley

However, with considerable earth moving and a brilliant design by Bill Robinson and Les Furber, you can transform a canyon into a fine golf course. Gallagher’s Canyon (tel: 250-861-4240; gallagherscanyon.com), named after the hermit who used to live here, has been ranked among Canada’s top 50 courses. This quintessential Okanagan golf odyssey swoops in and around the deep canyon.

The Okanagan Golf Club (tel: 800-446-5322; golfbc.com) boasts two 18-hole courses that tumble through Ponderosa pine forests, just five minutes from Kelowna’s International Airport. The Bear, designed by Jack Nicklaus, can be as ferocious as a grizzly or almost as gentle as a teddy, depending on which of the four sets of tees you choose to play. Tougher and tighter is Les Furber’s Quail course. Bring your camera to take a shot from the elevated tees on the memorable number six signature hole, a devilish dog-leg par five with a raised green surrounded by very effective bunkers.

It’s not part of the Golf Kelowna group, but you really must play Tobiano (tel: 877-373-2218; tobianogolf.com), near Kamloops. When it opened in 2008, the former site of the historic Six Mile Ranch was named Best New Course in Canada by SCOREGolf Magazine and by Golf Digest. Rocker Alice Cooper, an avid golfer (who'd have guessed?) also puts it on his top-10 list.

“There is really nothing like it in Canada; there is nothing like it anywhere,” says architect Thomas McBroom. “With the mountains in the background, Kamloops Lake and the fissured landscape, it’s literally as good as it gets.”

Named after the brown and white painted horse of the American southwest, Tobiano mesmerizes from the first hole with an exhilarating view of Lake Kamloops and mountains and then leads you through a giddying sweep of canyons, gullies and hoodoos. You won’t likely forget the par-three seventh hole requiring a wallop over a gully to a postage-stamp green tottering above the mirror-like lake — a real drama queen.

Just in case you need a reason to return to the Okanagan, there’s been a "Shark" sighting. At Ponderosa (tel: 250-767-21480; ponderosaliving.ca) in Peachland, about 30 kilometres south of Kelowna, Greg Norman has carved his signature 7100-yard track through forest and rocks around the base of Pincushion Mountain with stunning views of Lake Okanagan 150 metres below. Ponderosa is scheduled to open in 2013 — yet another “bonanza” for the Okanagan-bound swingers.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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