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March 30, 2010

Aiken, S.C. Hotel

The Willcox

"Like a favorite Southern aunt who knows all the proper ways to behave but still likes to have some fun" is how Christie Garrett describes The Willcox, an Aiken, South Carolina, grande dame rescued from disrepair and reopened in April. Except for the raspberry-colored doors, this 1898 Colonial Revival inn is very well-behaved: sumptuous curly-pine paneling and olive-green, burgundy, and rose couches in the lobby; soft colors and antiques mixed with reproductions in the 22 rooms (prettiest: the sunny yellow Hitchcock and Vanderbilt suites). Like another hotel owned by Garrett and her husband, David, The Point, The Willcox traces its history to the social elite at the turn of the last century. Astors, Vanderbilts, and Whitneys who passed through these doors while wintering in Aiken bred or bought racehorses, attended the season's races (including the Aiken Triple Crown, held each March), and played or watched world-class polo games at the area's many horse farms. That history appealed to the Garretts, as did the grace of the inn, with its patrician white columns and its rocking-chair-perfect front porch. So, with San Francisco designer Joszi Meskan, they embarked on a renovation intended to preserve the historic character. It did. The well-executed menu—mostly Southern, with a Mediterranean spin—is via chef Bob Conte. If it weren't for the traffic, you could be back in 1900. Rooms, $175-$600. At 100 Colleton Ave.; 877-648-2200, 803-648-1898; fax 803-648-6664; www.thewillcox.com.