Aiken for a Break

I am just back from two nights at the Willcox Inn in Aiken, South Carolina. Our 27th anniversary was nearly a month ago but it is this week that our youngest is at camp so we waited until now to officially celebrate making it to number 27. My husband, Jeff, was in Aiken on business several weeks back and noted the stately inn and quaint town. We needed somewhere not too far from home for getting away and doing absolutely nothing and the Willcox fit the bill.  It is crazy to think that we paid money to stay there two nights while we left our house empty but we have seen the benefits many times of getting away to other scenery and away from the routine and projects facing us at home.  I got nothing done WITHOUT the guilt, thank you very much.

The Willcox Inn was built during an era when Aiken was seen as a winter colony for the well-to-do.  It boasts a guest list that includes the Vanderbilts, FDR, and Winston Churchill and now Jeff and Theresa Beach! The inn has stately white columns out front and a woodsy lobby complete with stone fireplaces on both ends. My appetite for architecture, interior design, and furnishings was well satisfied with plenty of stimuli around every corner.

We had dropped our son off at camp in Greenville and then drove directly to Aiken. Well, actually you can’t drive directly to Aiken from Greenville so we saw places in our home state that we have never seen before.  There are lots of trees in our home state. We have never been more sure of this. Over two hours later, we arrived at the beautiful inn, checked in, and settled in.  

 This rail hit about mid-thigh. We had to reach down to turn the doorknobs inside the suite.  I felt really tall at times.

This rail hit about mid-thigh. We had to reach down to turn the doorknobs inside the suite.  I felt really tall at times.

 I like the way they dealt with this step and I love drop-leaf tables!

I like the way they dealt with this step and I love drop-leaf tables!

 An adorable way to leave an old-world sewing kit on the mantle for guests

An adorable way to leave an old-world sewing kit on the mantle for guests

After a little rest, we were finally hungry enough for dinner.  While we were still in our church clothes, we decided it would be the best time for our fancy meal of the trip so we went downstairs to the inn’s restaurant and were delighted at every turn.  We got a corner window table and enjoyed the view of each other. The butter for the bread was served on a chilled piece of slate and sprinkled with coarse salt. Jeff’s appetizer of ravioli was beautiful and tasty and something I think I could replicate at home: four ravioli topped with arugula, roasted red peppers, shaved parmesan, and malt vinegar. The colors would be perfect at Christmas. Our filets were spot on and accompanied by a mix of green vegetables. Jeff’s dessert was an espresso mousse sprinkled with what they called “honeycomb” which was like honey brittle. My dessert was a peach and blackberry cardamom sponge cake pudding. We approved.

I like the way this hotel and many others dress their beds.  Our king bed had a fluffy mattress topper and four soft pillows.  The linens were all white and they layer a warm but thin blanket between two flat sheets.  There is a patterned coverlet on top that you can pull up and then a fat duvet which I’m sure comes in handy when it is not July. This bed was quite a bit taller than our bed at home so it took a little getting used to getting out of bed (or I should say getting down from bed) without breaking our necks. There was a little step by the bed but it only complicated matters. 

After a very good night’s rest, Jeff got ready and went to the lobby to drink coffee and read while I enjoyed some self-pampering.  When I finally emerged, we went to the breakfast room in the hotel. They had pastries and menu items that were complimentary; you paid only if you ordered certain items like bacon, so it was nice to have complimentary Mixed Berry French Toast.  I nearly coveted the buffet from which they served the beverages.  It had storage and was plenty long and I have a wall in my dining room waiting for it.  

 A beautiful marriage of modern and old-fashioned. That applies to the bathroom as well.

A beautiful marriage of modern and old-fashioned. That applies to the bathroom as well.

The waitress who served us at breakfast noticed how genteel my husband is and asked, “Is he always so sweet to you?” I replied, "I'm afraid so."  I know how good I have it but every now and again I realize how VERY good I have it.  Our marriage is not without problems, but I am very blessed to be married to a man of integrity who treats me like a queen and more and more as we learn to love each other better.  I guess I made a good bet 27 years ago.

After breakfast we went outside to look at the pool and then for a walk downtown.  Aiken has many one way streets divided by wide medians which create parking spaces on each side or park areas.  It gives a spacious feel to the town and creates a lot of buffer zones. We went into the antique mall and enjoyed commenting on different items to each other. Back on the street, I saw a life-size replica of a horse painted as an American flag and, instantly thinking political party, I said, “Look at that donkey!” My companion got a great laugh out of that and we continued to note the “donkeys” throughout the town, painted with different scenes.

You do not have to be in Aiken long to realize that it is big on horses. There were horse items everywhere although we never saw an actual live horse. The inn and the antique mall were full of horse gear and old pictures of people riding and there are annual events for horse lovers. It’s an equestrian town for sure.

 You know you are in an equestrian town when there is a boot jack in your closet.  It even looks like a horse.

You know you are in an equestrian town when there is a boot jack in your closet.  It even looks like a horse.

 Even their leaves look like horses!

Even their leaves look like horses!

After an afternoon of cooling off and resting, we walked to a mid-afternoon lupper at The Pizza Joint.  Our Greek salad was delicious and, when it was all over, we left about half a pizza on the table.  

We decided to enjoy the room for the rest of the evening so we took another nap and called room service to deliver those same two desserts we had the night before.  It tastes better wearing a bath robe. Then Hubby indulged me and watched "The Coffee Shop” movie with me.  By this point I can’t remember what day it is. It is nice every once in a long while to have a day of not looking at the clock but eating when you are hungry and sleeping when you are tired.  I should put tired in quotation marks; “tired” from being lazy!

On our final morning there, we duplicated the previous morning and then headed out to Betsy’s on the Corner, a local diner that was heralded in an article I read of great restaurants in South Carolina.  We had noticed on the website that they serve breakfast on Saturdays until 11am so we figured they must stop serving it earlier on other days. Nope. It meant they serve breakfast ONLY on Saturdays. This town’s business hours were somewhat surprising if not inconvenient. We went just a bit down the road to What’s Cookin’ and had breakfast there.  The grits were substantial and full of herbs.  The rest was so-so and the waitress needed our help to know what to do, bless her heart. But, hey, the local experience is part of the adventure when you travel so we still enjoyed ourselves.

It really seemed like a much longer trip than it was, seeing we were there not even 48 hours. Even a short break can give much refreshment and you will be “chomping at the bit” to get back to your routine with renewed vigor. All those times that I needed a break during the busiest days of my life make me truly thankful for these luxurious getaways. Even at a much more modest price, I am convinced that they are absolutely necessary for the health of a marriage. There is something about removing the usual distractions and cares so that you can be absorbed in one another and interested in every little thought and interest of your spouse. And then there’s THOSE PEOPLE we try not to mention because we are on a MARRIAGE trip and not a PARENT trip…but end up smiling and laughing as we talk about our children anyway. Now we feel all affirmed and relaxed. Time to get back to our lives as we smile and remember a wonderful celebration of our marriage.