Tea for Two: “The Garden That Love Built” and Other Romantic Spots in Victoria
Tea for two at the Fairmont Empress, in Victoria, B.C. Photo: Courtesy of The Fairmont Empress
You may like your tea with a splash of milk, or a dab of honey. I prefer mine accompanied by a generous serving of romance and a compelling story about reunited loves.
Known as “the garden that love built,” Abkhazi Garden is a secluded gem in a quiet residential corner of Victoria, British Columbia. Like any good love story, this one has challenges, heartbreak and a sweet ending.
Situated on rock outcropping overlooking the garden, the teahouse was once Shanghai-born Peggy Pemberton-Carter’s modest home. She bought the Victoria property in 1945 and later lived there with her beloved, the exiled Georgian Prince Nicholas Abkhazi.
She and Abkhazi met in Paris in 1922. They became friends, often wrote to each other and occasionally visited when Peggy was in France. They were separated by the Second World War and both spent time in internment camps. With each not knowing if the other had even survived wartime horrors, they reunited in New York in 1946 and married soon after.
The pair settled in Peggy’s house in Victoria, turning the acre of land around it into a magnificently colourful garden filled with rhododendrons, azaleas, trees and a lush strip of lawn. They often referred to the 40-year garden project as their “child.” The Victoria-based Land Conservancy of British Columbia purchased the property in 2000 to ensure the garden that love built would always stay as the Abkhazis wanted.
Afternoon tea at the Teahouse at Abkhazi Garden is served inside or on the terrace overlooking the property. One of my favourite springtime rituals includes a walk around the blooming grounds, followed by tea with cucumber, and egg with tarragon, sandwiches, Salt Spring Island lamb sausage rolls, smoked salmon profiteroles and scones with house-made jam and clotted cream.
To accompany the feast, a pot of fragrant bergamot vanilla Royal Abkhazi Black Tea from Silk Road Tea in Victoria’s Chinatown to sip, while I admire the view and think about the devoted couple who brought this place to life.
I first heard the story of the prince and princess from perfumer Laurie Arbuthnot as I sampled fragrances at her Wild Coast Perfumery atelier in Cowichan Bay, about 45 minutes from Victoria. She created her Abkhazi fragrance as a tribute to the couple in 2017 and now bottles it by request.
“I owed it to the Abkhazi story (for it) to be absolutely gorgeous,” says Arbuthnot. “As I retold the story to customers, I saw how it stirred so much emotion. I felt I wanted the fragrance to do the same.”
A city known for its tearooms, the one that started the delicious ritual in the B.C. capital more than 110 years ago is the famed afternoon tea at the historic Fairmount Empress Hotel.
Billed as being “hot and steamy since 1908,” tea is served in the Lobby Lounge, which had a contemporary update in 2017 as part of the hotel’s $60 million makeover. The luxe tea, including cold-smoked Pacific sockeye salmon on blini with chive crème fraîche, Coronation chicken salad on brioche and banana caramel financier, gets a boost with the optional addition of a glass of Veuve Clicquot Brut or Rosé Champagne.
Brigitte Diem-Guy, director of marketing and public relations for the Fairmont Empress, says it’s not usual to see marriage proposals take place over afternoon tea. “Victoria has that romantic feel,” says Diem-Guy, who has offered words of encouragement to nervous grooms-to-be as they wondered how to pop the question.
Across the harbour at the Inn at Laurel Point, executive chef Ken Nakano and pastry chef Kimberley Vy have created a contemporary take on the afternoon tea for Aura Waterfront Restaurant + Patio. The tea is served on acrylic tiered cake stands, the better to show off smoked salmon okonomiyaki, chicken katsu on house-made brioche and yuzu pistachio opera slice – a menu that shows its love for the Pacific Northwest.
Ah, love. Last summer, I did an early evening guided yoga practice on the cool green grass of Abkhazi Garden. It was a peaceful place to stretch and breathe, to look up at the trees, surrounded by a natural world created by lovers who enjoyed many years together after war pulled them apart.
Tea in Victoria: When You Go
Choice of Royal Abkhazi High Tea ($65), Afternoon Tea ($54) or Elevenses ($28). Also available to go. Open weekends Oct. 1 to March 31; daily April 1 to Sept. 30; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations strongly recommended: 778-265-6466. Garden admission: $10 suggested donation.
Also available to go. Weekends 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., available daily starting this spring. Afternoon Tea ($89), Champagne Tea with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Brut ($122), Royal Champagne Tea with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose Champagne ($129), Prince or Princess Afternoon Tea for ages five to 12 ($45).
Reservations strongly recommended: 250-389-2727.
High tea weekends 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. $65. Reservations required.
*Note: A version of this story was published on Feb. 15, 2022. Prices and other information were accurate at that time.