Ex­plore the other Vic­to­ria

Plenty to see off the beaten path in B.C. cap­i­tal

Toronto Sun - - TRAVEL - KIM PEM­BER­TON Sep­cial to Post­media Net­work

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.

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. (abk­hazitea­house.com)

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 prov-

ince 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. (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 chil-

dren, 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. (butchart­gar­dens.com) (har­bourair.com/ tours/vic­to­ria/fly-n-dine-to-the­butchart-gar­dens)

MU­SEUM BE­HIND THE SCENES

For a dif­fer­ent view of the B.C. Royal Mu­seum, take a be­hind-thescenes 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. (roy­al­bc­mu­seum.bc.ca)

WALK­ING TOUR

Take a walk­ing tour with That Girl in Vic­to­ria (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.

KIM PEM­BER­TON PHO­TOS

The Butchart Gar­dens has 22 hectares of lush green space to dis­cover and the added bonus of al­low­ing vis­i­tors to bring their dogs. Here Kaia John­ston and cocker spaniels Katie and Leo check out the gar­den’s Dragon Foun­tain.

One of the old­est houses in Vic­to­ria is Point El­lice House, built in 1861, that also houses more than 4,600 ar­ti­facts used by the fam­ily. Be­low, the Abk­hazi Gar­den, cre­ated by an ex­iled Rus­sian prince and his wife.

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