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House Beautiful: Deep Cove Chalet blends magical waterfront garden with elegant French restaurant

When it comes to the ultimate work-live situation, this property takes the cake.

When it comes to the ultimate work-live situation, this property takes the cake.

It is located on the shore of North Saanich with a sweeping lawn that rolls down to the beach, a magical rose and herb garden, an attractive cottage, extensive wine cellar — and a traditional French restaurant just steps away.

This small Eden is the uniquely stunning home of chef Pierre and his wife Bev Koffel, who is a gardening enthusiast.

The inventive and sometimes eccentric Pierre has lived here and run the Deep Cove Chalet restaurant for 50 years, residing in various areas of the property including rooms over the restaurant at one time and then in an annex that has since been transformed into a vineyard.

For the past 20 years he and Bev have lived in a French-style home they had designed by Jim Grieve.

It is a few paces from the restaurant, but so surrounded by shrubs, vines and climbing roses that it blends almost invisibly into the luxuriant landscape.

While Pierre is master of the culinary arts, Bev is genie of the garden, which is a showcase of plants ranging from thick carpets of crushing thyme under foot to two-metre-high hydrangeas and above that, boughs laden with apples.

As well as being hostess in the restaurant, Bev creates all the tables’ flower arrangements using blooms from her own garden as well as from the property of friend Brian Stretch.

Her vision is always evolving as she continually draws inspiration from the pages of romantic English gardening magazines, and is assisted by a team of garden helpers led by Helene Chapdelaine.

“I grew up in the Monterey area of Oak Bay and used to always go to see the rose garden in Windsor Park,” said Bev, who became besotted with the large ornate plants at an early age.

“It was not something I inherited from my mother because she used to like plastic flowers,” she added with a chuckle, looking around at a nearby trellis dripping with roses, grape vines and clematis.

“This garden is in my soul.”

The Deep Cove property has a long and interesting history and was once the terminus of the B.C. Electric Railway, which built a tea house there in 1913.

Excursion trains carried hundreds of passengers from Victoria to the idyllic setting, which became a chic destination for day trippers and holiday makers. Stories include annual picnics there with change tents in fields west of the tracks, live piano music on the verandah and dancing on the lawn.

Within a few more years there were other attractions, including six cottages along the shore (renting for $3.50 a day), a tennis court overlooking the beach, a dock and boat rentals.

The property has been transformed again in the last half century.

When Pierre first opened his restaurant, the land around it was mostly lawn and there was little incentive to create plantings as the site was leased.

That all changed when local businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Winspear took an interest.

“Bill had known about the property since it was a railway station and way back when there were cottages there in the 1940s and people would journey to Deep Cove for summer holidays, like they do today to Parksville or Qualicum,” recalled Victoria lawyer Chris Considine.

“He helped the couple purchase the Chalet property a couple of decades ago,” and was just one of many who consider the property a gem.

Considine has known Pierre since the late 1970s — “I must have been a toddler when we first met” — and credits the innovative restaurateur with being “one of three principal chefs in B.C. who really got into the local food movement early on and did a great job of promoting local produce.

“Pierre is always looking for something new, innovative, different … and many of his staff have been there for 15 or more years, which is really remarkable in the restaurant industry.”

Considine added the property is a dream.

“The views and gardens they have created are brilliantly done, the patio enhancements and flowers are spectacular.

“It’s as nice a garden as you will find anywhere along the Amalfi Coast or in a Mediterranean setting and it’s a wonderful place to sit outside on a summer day and enjoy a gorgeous garden lunch or dinner, to watch children go down to the beach and play in the water…. In the winter it’s lovely to be inside in a warm environment beside the fireplace.”

He added the wine cellar is “one of the finest, private, small restaurant cellars in the province. It’s unique and creative, like Pierre.”

He added: “This place has been Pierre’s life work.”

The property has long been one of those iconic destinations where people have travelled to celebrate special occasions, where locals and visitors from around the world have savoured meals and created memories through the decades.

Children who started coming while in a baby basket have now grown up, said Considine, and are taking their own children to enjoy the beautiful setting, innovative food and a feeling of continuity and community.