Plenty to behold off the beaten path in Victoria

When visiting Victoria, almost everyone goes to the “must-see” places like Butchart Gardens and Craigdarroch Castle.

But if you have the time, why not add to that list and discover places most tourists miss, like the Abkhazi Garden and Point Ellice House.

These lesser-known attractions have their own special charm and a visit to them takes you off the beaten path to neighbourhoods the locals frequent.

Tucked away in the residential area of Fairfield, just 10 minutes by car from Victoria’s downtown, is an enchanting garden that once belonged to exiled Russian Prince Nicholas Abkhazi and his English wife Princess Peggy Abkhazi. Abroad, the couple lived a life that movies are made about, but they ended up in British Columbia’s capital in their later years.

Peggy was born in Shanghai to British expatriates, but both died of illnesses before she was five and she was adopted by a wealthy family in England. The prince was born to the Georgian monarchy in 1899 but was exiled to France in the early 1920s after Russia’s invasion and the Bolshevik Revolution.

They met and fell in love in Paris, but during the Second World War, Peggy would be interned in a Japanese war camp in Shanghai while Nicholas was a French solider taken prisoner in Hanover, Germany. After the war, Peggy moved to Victoria and bought a rocky, weedy plot of land in March 1946, and hired a landscaper to start clearing the property.

Visitors to the Abkhazi Garden, located in a residential neighbourhood in Victoria, can wander the property that has a large variety of elevations and sight lines that were created by an exiled Russian prince and his wife. Kim Pemberton photo

The prince was able to track her down and the two were married in November that year. Together, they put all of their creative focus on the land and expertly transformed it into a “garden that love built,” according to Peggy.

The couple never had children and lived in a modest, mid-century modern bungalow on the sprawling property until their deaths – the prince in 1988 and Peggy six years later.

Horticulturalists and neighbours came together to save the garden, not only captivating for its owners’ interesting history but also for its beauty. A walk through the garden, renowned for its rhododendrons, isn’t complete without a stop at the teahouse in the home’s quaint living room. It’s like stepping back in time to when the couple would have looked out the large front window to take in the many views of their beloved garden. (www.abkhaziteahouse.com)

One of the oldest houses in Victoria is Point Ellice House, built in 1861, that also has the distinction of housing more than 4,600 artifacts used by the family. Kim Pemberton photo

Another home that is definitely a step back in time is Point Ellice House — except the time is 1861 when it was first built.

While Victoria’s Craigdarroch Castle, built between 1887 and 1890, is definitely more grand, this lovely home overlooking the Gorge waterway is among the oldest houses in the city, and gives a true sense of what life was like for an upper middle-class family.

Members of the original family, Judge Peter and Caroline O’Reilly and their four children, lived in the home for more than 100 years. The family left behind nearly everything they had when the house was taken over by the province in 1975 to become a provincial historic site.

It’s a rare opportunity to see Edwardian and Victorian era-objects, such as a harp, china, linens, tea service sets, and much more, still in their original location from when they were used by the family. In total, more than 4,600 items make up the family’s collection of artifacts. (www.pointellicehouse.com)

BUTCHART GARDENS BY AIR

Butchart Gardens still remains one of Victoria’s leading tourist attractions but why not do it differently than driving the 45 minutes from downtown to its 22 hectares of lush and ever-changing gardens by going in style with Harbour Air. For $285 per adult and $149 for children, you can fly from Victoria’s inner harbour, landing in Butchart Cove just steps away from the gardens, within 20 minutes. The cost includes the garden entry fee, a three-course dinner at the Dining Room restaurant — located in the Butchart’s original family heritage home, and a limousine ride back to the city. The gardens have been a tourist favourite since 1904. (www.butchartgardens.com) (www.harbourair.com/tours/victoria/fly-n-dine-to-the-butchart-gardens)

Three-year-old Kaia Johnston questions whether the mammoth is alive or not at one of the many dioramas at the Royal B.C. Museum. Kim Pemberton photo

MUSEUM BEHIND THE SCENES

For a different view of the B.C. Royal Museum, take a behind-the-scenes tour and discover what researchers and staff are keeping in all those jars and boxes hidden out of sight, like the largest squid found in B.C. waters or a Glass Sponge reef, once thought to be extinct. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet the talented artists who create the museum’s displays. (www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca)

WALKING TOUR

Take a walking tour with That Girl in Victoria (www.thatgirlinvictoria.com) and learn some fun facts while checking out the shops in Victoria. You won’t soon forget how the original owner of the Old Morris Tobacconists shop, built in 1919 in downtown Victoria, was such a misogynist that he had an onyx archway built over the doorway since onyx is thought, by some, to ward off women.

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