Staying in gracious old hotels can work as well for families as for romantic couples or solo travelers appreciating charms of earlier eras. Find out why a visit today in Aiken, South Carolina, is as timely as it was for the first guests in 1900.
What Works for Families
Rooms are spacious with ample armchair seating, bright lamp lighting for readers and accessible plugs for charging electronics.
Seven suites have king beds in each of the two bedrooms, plus a pullout queen sleeper so that works for large blended, multigenerational families.
Only two adjoining rooms are in The Willcox Hotel design so reserve in advance if that works best for your family.
Bicycles are free to borrow, arranged near the front steps and hooked to the Aiken, South Carolina ubiquitous concrete lawn jockey, wearing the silks of distinctive colors of a mythical polo team or thoroughbred horse owner.
The Aiken Public Library is across the street, at an angle not visible but a very short walk, with a lively children’s department, a tweens and teens only section and a playground with safety and adventure apparatus for babies through elementary age children.
The outdoor pool seemed equally inviting for lounging with a cocktail, good book or a nap as it did for playing with the children in the water. I suspect what works best for families in the midst of other guests is the call for thoughtfulness and good manners.
Downtown Aiken. South Carolina, with a glorious Arts Center and many individually owned shops is truly walkable: a block from The Willcox.
Just as close are the 70 miles of walking or equestrian trails in Hitchcock Woods, one of America’s largest urban forests.
What Doesn’t Work for Families
Perhaps old-world elegance is off putting for families fearful the children will disturb other guests. Entering the lobby feels like arriving in a private home with double dens or parlors, fine woods everywhere, antiques and reproductions everywhere.
In fact, I needed to blink a bit coming in from the South Carolina sunshine to discover check in beyond this residential atmosphere.
Yes there’s a gym known as the cardio room, overlooking the pool. Expect a treadmill, elliptical trainer and stationary bike.
Prefer a Concept 2 rowing machine? Give an hour’s notice and one will be delivered to your room.
Ask again and you’ll receive DVDs for yoga, Pilates, qigong or muscle therapy complete with an 18 inch foam roller.
The meditation DVD comes with a proper pillow.
The spa and salon are tucked in a labyrinth of a corner with skilled therapists and stylists, open daily from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. I can only speak of my deep tissue massage and assure you I walked better and raised my arms higher in a pain-free way than in a long time.
Off site Gold’s Gym is available free to Willcox guests and Aiken Yoga charges $15 for classes of $50 for an unlimited week pass.
Not to worry about signs of aging in this hotel opened in 1900 and replete with stories from the 1920s and ‘30s when uber-wealthy families fled the snowy north to winter here.
Multi-million dollar renovations in 1987 paved the way for new ownership in 2000, with more extensive refreshing and reopening in 2002. Today’s owners, Geoffrey and Shannon Ellis, refer to The Willcox as a living room of the Aiken community and a second home to their guests.
I stayed in what’s called a King Superior and like everything about this grand old hotel, nothing felt pretentious, but every chair was comfortable, functional and inviting with appropriate lighting, table or desk.
The bedding was cozy but fluffy versus the heavyweight comforters often found on elegant four-poster beds like I slept in.
Rates start at $189 and can reach $425. Look for an average of $210 – $250.
Chef Regan Browell brings her culinary heritage from New Zealand to The Willcox dining room where even Sunday brunch blends the notion of elegant with sensible.
Don’t you find many brunch experiences over the top? Too much and too decorative? This one is table service, not a traipse around the dining room, bountiful buffet. I found that refreshing.
“Brekkie” was my choice, nothing I’d ever heard of before and now a desire to have again, with or without travel to New Zealand. Quinoa with kale, corn, roasted butternut squash topped with a poached egg.
Familiar food too on this brunch menu, like the Angus burger with slaw, to satisfy my husband. Watch for the peanuts in this spicy cabbage concoction is you have allergies.
Everyday breakfast is a dynamic affair at The Willcox—set out to help yourself and so enticing compared to the carb dominated routine spreads when breakfast is included in the room price.
Hard-boiled eggs for instance, and cookers to soft-boil and eat from a proper cup if you like. This thoughtful provision for guests with diabetes matched other kindly services I noticed.
Greek yogurt with jammy fruits in single serving portions within embellished glass jars a jelly maker might use are served on a bowl of ice.
Orange walnut bread baked before the sun rose plus muffins and fresh fruit joined the anticipated coffee and juices.
This daily breakfast layout is in an art gallery hallway, leading to the landscaped pool and patio or a wood paneled den with table seating or leather sofas and upholstered wing chairs.
Sunday hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m. and every other day the dining room serves from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.