The village of Naramata sits at the end of a windy road that curves along the eastern shore of Lake Okanagan in British Columbia’s south Okanagan Valley. As one drives the 20 minutes from Penticton, past the 40-plus wineries, tasting rooms, orchards, and restaurants of the historic Naramata Bench wine region, the world slips away, and the eyes focus on the shimmer of the lake and the vine-covered hillsides.
A journey to Naramata is one of serenity, history, and viniculture. The village itself is a neat grid of homes, a little church with bells that ring at noon, a salmon-bearing stream, artisan shops, and a well-stocked general store shaded by large elm trees.
The heart of Naramata is the reopened Naramata Inn, surrounded by large trees and steps from Naramata Centre Beach. Whether visiting during the warm and languid days of spring and summer, or the bountiful fall harvest season, the rolling hills, spectacular scenery, history, and culinary culture of Naramata offer a welcome respite. Its abundance of charm and sophisticated food-and-drink scene are driving reasons why the region of the South Okanagan ranks among the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Visit for 2021, a survey of travel journalists and industry experts that will be published in January.
A Touch of Nirvana in Naramata
Opening a boutique hotel, or rather “a really great restaurant. With rooms” in the middle of pandemic might strike some as the ultimate in risky ventures. But for chef Ned Bell, his wife Kate Colley, and their business partners the momentum that began with their purchase and renovation of the 112-year-old Naramata Inn could not be contained. The gamble has paid off, with the hotel opening on July 5, 2020, to sold-out rooms and a steady lunch and dinner service in the restaurant.
Built in 1908 by J.M. Robinson, the historic Mission-style Naramata Inn has seen its share of ups and downs. The recent renovation and refurbishment has breathed new life into the building, and with it excitement in this idyllic lakeside community.
The hotel is intimate, with just 12 rooms, plus a luxe two-bedroom suite that was once the home of the original innkeeper. The rooms are appointed with clawfoot tubs, refurbished original wooden floors, small writing desks, outdoor verandas with chairs and loungers, a beautiful garden with seating in summer, and an upstairs seating area for guests to read, relax, or sip a bottle purchased from a nearby winery or the village’s well-stocked General Store.
Breakfast is included for hotel guests, and includes a choice of a delicious Farmhouse Breakfast of yogurt parfait, freshly baked scone, of-the-moment fruit compotes, and a selection of Naramata cheese and seasonal fruit, or the Garden Breakfast, with overnight oats, Naramata granola, Okanagan fruit, and one of Bell’s popular power cookies.
The seasonal bounty shines during dinner service, with mushrooms, cheeses, meats, and root vegetables highlighted during the fall harvest season. The wine cellar is stocked with hard-to-find Okanagan favourites, as well as some outlanders for variety. But don’t miss the delicious Naramata Signature cocktails, featuring premium ingredients and seasonal preparations.
“My team and I are thrilled to bring the best of Naramata’s bounty in ingredients, wine, talents, and suppliers to diners’ plates from the neighbourhood and across the province,” Bell says.
While one could easily sustain themselves on the dishes at the Naramata Inn, the culinary scene on the Naramata Bench includes several outstanding places to dine, including some wineries with excellent restaurants and food purveyors worth a visit.
The Vanilla Pod, the restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery, is just down the road from the Inn. Taking over the room in May 2020, head chef Ron Ratcliffe, formerly of Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver, is producing beautifully plated seasonal dishes in a modern floor-to-ceiling glass and concrete space with spectacular views of Penticton and the lake.
The fall menu highlighted regional seasonality with dishes like harvest carrots with curried hummus, beet salads and beef tartare, confit salmon, and grilled porkchops, all accompanied by estate grown Poplar Grove wines.
The Bistro at Hillside Winery on Naramata Bench offers a “Food Lover’s journey,” with terroir-to-table cuisine that draws inspiration from the Naramatian lifestyle. The Bistro serves up interesting flavour combinations and ingredients that pair well with the unique and compelling taste of Hillside’s wines, which are crafted exclusively from Naramata-grown grapes.
Should you wish to venture into town, TIME Winery & Kitchen is an all-in-one destination for oenophiles and connoisseurs. It includes a winery, tasting bar, and restaurant rolled into one large space — a renovated former movie theatre — in downtown Penticton.
Order flights of in-house vintages to accompany the burger-forward (but with great vegetarian options) dining menu of chef AK Campbell. Or reserve a table for the special Sunday Roast Prime Rib dinners.
For lighter fare like smoothies, sandwiches and bowls, served with dynamite sustainable coffee, pop into charming Wayne & Freda. What was once a non-descript car garage has been converted by young owners Ryan and Jen Hawk into a spacious coffee shop and neighbourhood meeting place. It’s another example of why the tastes, sights, and experiences in Naramata and Penticton should foster plans for visits, both for first-time travellers and repeat guests.
MORE ABOUT THE NARAMATA INN
Location: 3625 1st Street, Naramata, BC (see map below)
Room Rates: The inn is offering a 50% discount on room nights for certain dates in December and January, making the starting rates for those sale dates as low as $140 per night. Visit the inn’s website for details.
Note: Vacay.ca editors and writers are creating a series of articles on the Okanagan Valley, which has handled the pandemic exceptionally well and maintained a strong culture of hospitality while adapting to the realities of COVID-19 and still introducing new experiences. Discover our recent articles: “Snowbirds Warm Up to the South Okanagan” and “Seated Tastings Receive a Standing Ovation in Wine Country“.