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Nature is the Star in Penticton

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Lake Okanagan is 135 kilometres (84 miles) long and is the centre of a thriving community focused on environmental practices. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Some grassroots movements start in an organized fashion, others with a series of independent actions that slowly begin to have an impact. In Penticton, multiple businesses have put a focus on environmentalism, creating a community that is showing leadership among small Canadian municipalities when it comes to sustainability efforts.

The British Columbia city has landed on the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2019, an annual ranking of the top destinations in the nation that will be released later in June. For this year, the ranking recognizes locales that promote environmentalism in an exceptional way, including advancing the federal government’s aim of eliminating many uses of plastic.

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Liz LeMare’s Backyard Beans sells small-batch coffee sourced from organic farms around the world. She has eliminated single-use plastic from her operations. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Liz LeMare’s Backyard Beans provides a prime example of the attitude that will amaze visitors to Penticton. The coffee shop, notable for serving beverages from the side door of its Volkswagen camper van, has done away with cardboard cups and stir sticks — even when it serves patrons at its kiosk at the weekly Penticton Farmers’ Market. Backyard Beans hands its customers a ceramic mug and asks them to return it before they depart their visit to the open-air market that takes over multiple blocks of downtown Penticton each Saturday. “They don’t always come back,” LeMare admits of the mugs. But those losses don’t faze her from the program she established a few years ago.

LeMare aimed to eliminate single-use items such as plastic stir sticks and cardboard cups. Uncooked pasta strands are used to stir the coffee (or metal spoons are available for vegans), reducing the use of a wasteful product.

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Penticton’s Lakeside Resort and Conference Centre features a new wing built largely from reclaimed or discarded wood. Its attractive rooms offer splendid views of the lake. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

“We were getting busy at our store, and all of a sudden we started to notice what was being used. It was crazy how fast we were going through the coffee cups and stir sticks and we thought there must be a better way,” says LeMare, whose company has been pouring coffee at the Penticton Farmers’ Market for 17 years. “It was really the stir sticks that got us thinking about making these changes. The amount of energy and amount of cost to the environment that went into a thin piece of plastic that someone would literally use for only two seconds in their coffee and then throw away in the garbage, it just wasn’t worth it, we didn’t think.”

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The weekly farmers’ market is the highlight of a visit to the city. It includes up to 100 small businesses each week, featuring artisan craftmakers, wineries, breweries, florists, and a variety of food retailers. In order to adhere to the market’s mandate of profiling small vendors, no farmer can have a production area larger than 15 acres. “You get to know your farmers,” says market manager Katherine Harris. “They come here with dirt in their hands.”

You get to know your winemakers too in this epicentre of the Okanagan Valley viticulture region. Time Winery became the first urban winery in British Columbia’s interior when it opened in 2018 in a renovated movie theatre that dates to the 1950s. Time’s efforts saved a derelict building and includes recycled material in its modernization project. Along with tasting exceptional wines created by industry pioneer Harry McWatters, Time includes a restaurant that serves a variety of dishes suited for pairing.

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At Great Estates, wine-tasting experiences include food samples that are matched with the vintages. Along with plenty of knowledge of Okanagan wines, guests can enjoy an environmentally friendly experience. Utensils are made from compostable materials. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Down the road from Time is the Great Estates Wine Experience, which offers tastings of some of the South Okanagan’s finest wines, saving visitors from driving to the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos that are more than 40 kilometres (24 miles) away. The tastings feature food pairings, including a divine chocolate option, and come with forks and knives that are made from compostable materials.

Great Estates is housed in the new West Building of the Lakeside Resort and Conference Centre. The recently opened wing of the hotel demonstrates how concern for the environment can inform design and decor. Much of the material used in the construction includes reclaimed wood that was infested with pine beetles but have been reengineered to work as beams, pillars, floorboards, wall art, and sculptures. By salvaging these sections of trees that were infected, carpenters and craftspeople are saving many healthy trees from demise. Best of all, the end result is richly attractive. All of the rooms in the West Building feature king beds and interiors with stylish design and luxury bathrooms. Guests have either a view of the southern end of Lake Okanagan, which is often populated by paddle-boarders and kayakers, or the city view of downtown Penticton.

The environmental efforts of businesses are supported by Tourism Penticton’s own initiatives that include encouraging visitors to unplug their electronic devices and explore the many outdoor experiences available in the area. Among these are the Kettle Valley Railroad Trail, where bikers or hikers can trek along abandoned tracks that travel past the central Okanagan’s arid hillsides overlooking the region’s iconic, namesake lake.

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The cheese and meat board at Time Winery and Kitchen is so good you’ll hardly be able to keep your hands off of it. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Executive director of Tourism Penticton, Thom Tischik, envisions a zero-fuel, zero-emissions vacation for visitors who can experience the joys of the Okanagan Valley’s outdoor lifestyle as well as its wine offerings without a car.

“There is a desire to escape and to get in touch with nature, we understand there’s that part of it,” Tischik says of his organization’s campaign to showcase the nature activities in the Pentiction area, “and we also know it’s the right thing to encourage for this generation and future ones.”

MORE ABOUT VISITING PENTICTON

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The Hooded Merganser is the main restaurant of the Lakeside Resort and Conference Centre, and its location is as good as it gets in Penticton. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Getting There: Penticton is about five hours by car from Vancouver (to the west) and seven hours from Calgary (to the east). Penticton Regional Airport has Air Canada and WestJet flights arriving daily from both of those major cities.

Where to Stay: Lakeside Resort and Conference Centre is a fabulous place to base your stay. Its rooms feature comfortable beds and many have balconies that face the lake. The West Building is newly renovated with upscale bathrooms and decor. Its amenities include private beach access and a good marina-side restaurant, The Hooded Merganser. Its popular bar, the Barking Parrot, has a food menu where every item is $5.95 with the purchase of a drink. Room Rates: A recent search on the hotel’s booking engine returned a nightly rate of $286 per room for a weekend stay in July.

Tourism Info: For further details of visiting the region, check Tourism Penticton’s website.

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.