For those adding a few days to their visit to British Columbia, a trip to the Okanagan Valley is a must. I made this area my home more than 20 years ago and can't imagine living anywhere else.

The Okanagan is a short 40-minute flight or scenic five-hour drive from Vancouver. The south end of the valley is Canada's only natural desert (yes, a desert in Canada!). The hot dry summers and many lakes led to the creation of one of Canada's most abundant fruit-growing regions and the wine industry followed. In the past 25 years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of wineries. In fact, the Okanagan Valley has more than 100 wineries. Whether you choose to visit a large vineyard or a smaller family- owned vineyard with intimate tasting rooms, you will be sure to find a few bottles (or cases) to enjoy. Some of our wineries also feature exceptional dining, with views of the surrounding hillsides, lakes, and mountains. Many restaurants and bistros throughout the valley feature local-fare menus, which allow you to enjoy the bountiful products.

If you are a golf enthusiast, the valley boasts more than 50 amazing courses, including many championship courses. Predator Ridge, near Vernon, in the north end of the valley, is also home to the Sparkling Hill Resort and Spa, the only North American resort that incorporates Swarovski Crystal elements into every aspect of its design and a European spa. There are plenty of other spas throughout the valley so that you can pamper yourself after a week of conferencing!

The weather pre-and postconference is warm enough to enjoy the beaches and outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking, kayaking, boating, or even hunting Okanagan Lake's mythical lake monster, Ogopogo. You may also want to tour historic sites, shop, or just spend time relaxing and taking in the scenery. I look forward to seeing you at the Okanagan!

Gordon Shuster has worked in international education for more than 10 years. He is responsible for the Middle Eastern market for Okanagan College.