The considerate and doting husband that I am, I said to my wife the four words every significant other wants to hear when receiving a combined Mother’s Day and birthday present… “We’re going to Aiken!”
After her eyes finished rolling around her head (it was a pretty exaggerated eye roll, with hints of “why did I marry this person?”), I was able to explain that I booked us at the Willcox Hotel in Aiken, South Carolina, and it would be a relaxing one-night getaway from our two small children who, while adorable, are still two small children.
Leaving on a Saturday afternoon, our drive down I-77 and then I-20 west to Aiken (about 20 minutes outside of Augusta) took two hours on the dot.
The town itself on first inspection isn’t exactly picture book and there were doubts about our (my) choice of adventure (my wife reminded me that Charleston also has hotels), however when we pulled up to the hotel there was definitely an authentic Southern mystique about the place and our hopes for a nice night improved dramatically.
Situated near the heart of town, the Willcox Hotel first opened in 1898, although was closed for a number of years before being reopened and restored in the 1980s.
The hotel looks like an idyllic Southern mansion and the friendly staff reminds you right away you are in the south with an authentic and genuine “hi y’all, how are you doing” when you walk into the main room (I hesitate to use the term lobby, because the Willcox’s main room/lobby is more akin to a living room with sofas and people lounging about than a typical hotel lobby).
The staff immediately impressed upon us a five star level of service that made us see why the hotel has won numerous awards and has been featured in magazines like Southern Living and Town and Country.
For our getaway, we booked a spa and stay package for $350 that included a one-night stay with free breakfast and a one hour his and her massage in the hotel’s spa.
Our room was immaculate and featured a four-post bed, separate sitting area with fireplace, and a huge bathroom.
After unpacking, it was time for our “his and her” massage. The massage was just what parents of two small children (did I mention we have two small children…) needed and we both really liked the spa’s quaint atmosphere (the spa itself has been recognized by Conde Nast).
After the massages we decided to stroll around town, which didn’t take long.
There were some nice looking boutiques (per my wife) and also a few restaurants. For those fans of Mellow Mushroom, Aiken has you covered with its very own.
On the way back we checked out the hotel’s pool which was nice and a place we would spend time if we had a longer stay.
In reality, we didn’t need to leave the hotel, but the turn down service was at 6 p.m. so we wanted to stroll around to let the hotel staff do their jobs (I’m never one to turn down a turn down).
Our dinner was at the hotel’s restaurant and featured a fairly simple menu with very reasonable prices (the most expensive item was a 6 oz filet mignon for $27).
The food was top notch and my wife liked the build your own Manhattan cocktail options with various bourbons, ryes, vermouths and bitters. One of our co-patrons at the bar for our pre-dinner cocktail was a charming yellow lab (from what I could gather she was the most-popular guest at the hotel) and the hotel is fully dog friendly.
The wait staff continued the attentive trend established by the other hotel staff we encountered and we were never want of service. Following dinner, we went out to the front porch for a nightcap and rocked in the rocking chairs and conversed with the other guests about current events and the important issues of our time.
We woke up bright and early on Sunday at 6 a.m. ready to seize the day and then remembered our kids were not with us and went back to bed.
When we finally strolled downstairs at 9 a.m., we were pleased that the continental breakfast was still well stocked with fresh baked muffins, granola, homemade preservatives and eggs.
We had considered the brunch at the hotel’s restaurant but the continental breakfast had everything we wanted and was free.
Following breakfast we strolled around the hotel looking at the various artwork on the walls. The hotel could also serve as a gallery of sorts with hundreds of interesting (and expensive) horse themed pictures on display throughout. Aiken is a horse town and apparently has some of the best polo and other horse stuff in the country (I am not a horse person, obviously).
When we go back, we will definitely time up our visit to coincide with a polo match or other horse match (do horses have matches?).
All in all, the Willcox Hotel is a legitimate five star hotel and lived up to the reviews and write ups.
The staff was great, the room was great, and the spa was great.
The town of Aiken is not going to be confused with Charleston or Asheville but is the perfect getaway from Charlotte for one or two nights. The price was incredibly reasonable and the charm and quality hotel is something that I am probably not accurately conveying into words. Giving a combined Mother’s Day and birthday gift is an incredibly risky strategy (and generally a stupid, terrible idea) but I think I pulled it off (for this year at least).
Cover image via Facebook