Situated a few hours southwest of Greenville, a cluster of small towns hugs the border of Georgia- Aiken, North Augusta, Allendale and Bamberg and Barnwell Counties. Here, life slows down a bit and horses permeate the landscape and culture.
In Aiken, horses not only dominate, but the city attract trainers and horse enthusiasts from around the world. Horse paths don the city like roads and the four-legged creatures have right-of-way over cars.
Nearby, in North Augusta, some may say this city has an identity crisis by sharing its name with its Georgia border namesake, but the city is distinctly its own.
Begin by booking an overnight (or longer) stay at either a turn-of-the-century mansion in North Augusta or in Aiken at one of the world’s best hotel in the world according to Conde Nast Traveler and Travel and Leisure.
Built in 1902, the Rosemary Inn, and its sister property across the street, the Lookaway Inn, both sit on a hilltop in the heart of North Augusta with amazing views of the area. The two mansions display large columns, sweeping verandas, lush courtyards and impressive architecture that lend way to tastefully decorated rooms, fine linens and sumptuous breakfasts.
In Aiken, The Willcox Hotel exudes charm and sophistication. Guest rooms are comfortable retreats that are luxuriously appointed. Most have fireplaces, and each has its own character. Marble and white tile bathrooms hold deep-soaking tubs, stacks of thick towels and plush robes. A bath concierge is available to tailor-make guests a luxurious soaking. Nightly turn-down service includes a cashmere hot water bottle tucked under the sheets and a small, sweet gift placed on your pillow.
To get a feel for the area, visit the Aiken County Historical Museum located inside Banksia, a 30-room historic home named after a yellow rose growing on the property. The museum includes exhibits on county history and on the property is a one-room schoolhouse and an 1800’s-era log cabin.
To truly understand the equine history of Aiken, head to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum at Hopeland Gardens. This museum celebrates the tradition of racing and explains Aikens vital role in the sport. Photos, trophies and other memorabilia from some of the 40 plus thoroughbred champions that have trained in Aiken are on display. Trees, reflecting pools, wetlands and a labyrinth at Hopeland Gardens provide a wonderful place to get lost for a little while.
For a more immersive history lesson, the 7 ½-acre Living History Park in North Augusta offers visitors a chance to experience colonial-era life. Living exhibits, artisans and demonstrations are held throughout the year.
Redcliffe Plantation gives a glimpse into life in the 1800’s. Built in 1859 for cotton plantation owner James Henry Hammond, Redcliffe was one of four plantations owned by the Hammonds. In 1973 the family donated the property, furniture and papers to the state of South Carolina Park Service.
As with most southern cities, dining in the area runs the gamut from meat and three’s to fine dining. Some great discoveries include in North Augusta include Manuel’s Bread Café in the Hammonds Ferry neighborhood and down-home southern cooking with no frills at Crossroads Café in Beech Island. Grab a pint at the Aiken Brewing Company or Legal Libations in downtown Aiken. Malia’s offers a blackboard menu with fresh, seasonal ingredients and Tako Sushi serves up Mexican fare and you guessed it, sushi.
So plan a visit now and get to know South Carolina’s Thoroughbred Country.