Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Travels with Chili: Perched in Penticton

I've been dying to write this post since we got back from our Okanagan road trip, but I've forced myself to stick to the itinerary and not spill the beans. On this vacation there were so many places that really stood out, and people who blew us away with their kindness, as well as their commitment to their communities. I've already mentioned some like the Methow Valley Inn and Tappi in Twisp; and Gene Covert, Road 13, Tinhorn Creek and Miradoro in Oliver. But little did we know what was in store for us as we moved north.

The living room.

Our next destination was centered around the city of Penticton, bordered by 85-mile-long Okanagan Lake to the north and much smaller Skaha Lake to the south. We were scheduled to spend the night at a place called God's Mountain Estate, whose name gave me pause. Were little monk men or, worse, evangelical fanatics going to set upon us with religious tomes and chanting?

The narrow two-lane road to the estate was wedged between the eastern edge of the lake and the hills that rose up precipitously from it. About halfway around the lake we saw a tiny domed white stucco structure with the address we were looking for stuck on it. A gravel road ran up the hillside, and about halfway up that drive there was a white iron gate. We paused, wondering if this was really where we were supposed to be since there was no sign and no one appeared to be around. But as we inched closer the gate mysteriously swung open, so we cautiously continued.

Stairway to a landing.

At the top of the drive we finally saw a building, a rambling white stucco house that wouldn't have looked out of place on a hillside in Greece. Out of the house charged three large dogs of varying ages, barking madly. Since we're dog people this ferocious display didn't dissuade us in the least, accompanied as it was with wagging tails and broad smiles (not bared teeth). Behind them came a woman in a long flowing dress, her hair tied up in a loose bun and a smile on her face as she shooed the dogs away.

The roofless room-with-a-view.

It turns out Sarah Allen knew she had to have this house from the moment she walked in the door, even though it was in a physical condition that, generously speaking, could have been described as crumbling and with the interior walls all painted black. Eventually she and the owner came to an agreement on the price, and she and her partner started (literally) bringing the house back into the light.

The view of Skaha Lake from one room.

The house is oddly laid out with stairs and landings leading to rooms on various levels, some cantilevered to take in the view. One is actually roofless, featuring its own hot tub, an Asian-style gazebo and a 360° view of the property and the lake. We kept taking wrong turns trying to find our room, but it became part of the fun of the place. Everything about the house reminded me of a movie set for a Liz Taylor/Richard Burton film, filled as it was with (several) life-sized deer statues and an idiosynchratic-but-sophisticated jumble of antiques.

The property is a vineyard, as well, producing just a few cases of wine from the riesling grapes grown on its steep hillsides. There are several excellent trails that meander through the property and along the summit of Skaha Bluffs, offering spectacular views over the valley. Even better? One of the hounds will escort you on your hike. But for us the best part of our stay was simply sitting on the shaded wraparound veranda reading a book or taking a dip in the cliffside hot tub as the stars came out over Skaha Lake.

Breakfast was quite the spread, with everything from muesli to eggs, bacon, French toast, pastries, fruit and, most importantly, terrific coffee in the sunny breakfast room. There was also a full kitchen for those who wanted to cook their own meals or just store a bottle of wine. Sadly we only had one night at this place, but it made us long for several more to really kick back and relax. Maybe on our next trip?

Details: God's Mountain Estate, 4898 Lakeside/Eastside Rd., Penticton, BC, Canada. 250-490-4800.

Read the other posts in this series, The Great Okanagan Road Trip, Okangan's Lake Country, Magical Moment, Penticton Personalities and Crazy for Kelowna.

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