The happy marriage of nature and development in Canada's beautiful Okanagan region spellbinds Paul Lewis.

The mule deer looked at us with shy tolerance; like we were trespassing but she was too polite to tell us off. The big, donkey-like ears that give her the name waggled in our direction. Her fawn moved edgily to her side.

We were winding our way along one of the many trails that straggle down the hillside by the gobsmackingly gorgeous Sparkling Hill resort near Vernon, British Columbia.

We were no more than 20 paces from the huge, $150 million resort, a personal project of the patriarch of the Swarovski family, when we spotted the deer.

Sparkling Hill is an enormous building, littered with Swarovski crystals - "bling on a hill", as some cynic described it. Wildlife surely has no business being near such a monument to man's ability to insert himself in the wilderness.


Yet, later in the walk, we disturbed a white-tailed deer and her two fawns and they bolted, leaping over a fallen tree, their white rumps flashing.

I'm not even sure why we decided to go for a walk. Maybe it was the need to do some exercise after enjoying too much of the cuisine and wine from the Thompson-Okanagan region; a golden place of 1000 lakes, fruit, vineyards and arrestingly fresh produce.

Maybe it was the shock. The Sparkling Hill room we were shown into threw us. The door swung open and there was the most jaw-droppingly beautiful panorama; daring us to say or even think we had ever seen anything quite like it.

Outside the soaring, plate-glass windows of our room was Lake Okanagan, presented on a floor-to-ceiling glass canvas with close to 180-degree views, with woods running down to the water's edge.

A bath stood in the window, a mute invitation to enjoy all that man can make in conjunction with all that he can never master - the sheer beauty of nature.

Here are some reasons why you might not be moved by the sight that hammers into your cornea as the door swings open: you are blind; you are a corpse; you are emotionally stunted.

Seeing the deer was one of the signature moments in an almost two-week exploration of the region; driving around Lake Okanagan, Lake Shuswap and Lake Osoyoos. We flew into Vancouver and drove to the region (the longest drive was four hours), but you could fly into nearby Kelowna Airport if Sparkling Hill was the objective.

Which it should be. In many years as a journalist and public relations practitioner, I have been around the world a few times. My partner Jennie has, too. In total, we must have racked up as many air miles over the years as, oh, I don't know, your average astronaut. This can breed some cynicism and world-weariness when it comes to travel.


Sparkling Hill knocks that out of you with the force of a fire hose. It is the brainchild of CEO Hans-Peter Mayer, who wanted to bring European-style spa and wellness therapy to North America.

Mayer persuaded fellow Austrian Gernot Langes-Swarovski (patriarch of the Swarovski crystal empire) to stump up the cash.

Twelve years (and more than 150 million smackers) later, Sparkling Hill opened in May. A few months later, the resort was plainly still being finished. Yet it had an air about it.

There is so much Swarovski (almost two million crystals in all) and Swarovski-inspired decoration that it would only make it sound kitsch to try and describe it. It sounds over the top, but it works.

That night, having sampled the pleasures of the kitchen - try the bison, it knocks beef into a hat; it's much leaner and falls sweetly under the knife - we opened the huge plate-glass window that slides back to reveal the night. We ran the water into the made-for-two bath. We slid into the hot water, only the trees and the deer as witnesses; we gazed out into the woods and the almost-phosphorescence of the lake.

Television couldn't beat it. Nor could 3D cinema. Outrageous Fortune was probably airing in New Zealand, we mused, but this ... this was outrageous fortune of an entirely different kind.

This is probably a good time to explain that we were in the Okanagan region in September. The tourism authorities are pushing it as a summer destination. With good reason. It does well in winter, with ski resorts all around, but September is a fine time to visit.

The summer crowds, including holidaying Canadians, have gone; the kids are back at school and the space is wide and open; the temperatures between 18C and 24C, with no rain. The lakes beckon - giant aquatic playgrounds for yachts, launches, canoes, kayaks, houseboats and seaplanes.

Talking of temperatures, we were keen to try Sparkling Hill's signature therapy - the cold sauna. Marketed as a wellness resort, Sparkling Hill has many spa treatments to enjoy, but perhaps the most arresting is its freeze therapy.

An extension of the ice bath technology that many professional athletes endure, the cold sauna takes temperatures down to -110C, so cold that guests have to be taken down to that temperature in stages. It's reputed to be excellent for joint pain, in particular.

However, the machinery that produces these temperatures had broken down when we were there, so we consoled ourselves with a game of golf on the beautiful neighbouring Predator Ridge course. There are two courses, both surrounded by housing.

Surrounded? Gulf Harbour and some other Kiwi courses could learn a lesson here. Although there are hundreds of them, the houses never intrude on to the course; never intimidating the golfer and never producing a feeling of invasion; cleverly blended into the spectacular setting.

Okanagan lakeside stays

Aside from Sparkling Hill several other hotels and lodges in the region offer lakeside stays and impressive views.

El Dorado, Kelowna: This is a boutique hotel with a touch of the old world about it. Originally built by an Austrian countess in 1926, it was relocated up the lake by barge in the late-1980s, was burnt down by an arsonist and re-built. Great dining room looks out on to the marina and lake.

Summerhead Waterfront Resort Superb suites, most with lakeside views, from some of which you can hear the lake lapping at the shore. Make sure you spend some time at the lakeside Local Lounge & Grill and chat to Christa-Lee McWatters Bond. What she doesn't know about the region and its food and beverage scene isn't worth knowing ...

Watermark Beach Resort Hotel, Osoyoos A stunning hotel at Osoyoos, an Indian word meaning where two lakes come together (Lakes Okanagan and Osoyoos), this is a modern, friendly, beachfront complex with excellent swimming beaches and stunning views of the First Nation lands across the lake - the N'kmip vineyards, golf course and their fiercely protected desert lands; the only desert in Canada. A must.