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As a small city with an area of only 20.8 square miles, and a population of just 29,500 as of 2010, what Aiken in South Carolina lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character. From its bustling calendar of events and activities on offer all year round, to the energetic and exciting steeplechase, to the vast and scenic parks throughout the city, there really is something on offer for everyone who comes to visit Aiken. Here, The Culture Trip catches up with Jenny Burghardt of Visit Aiken, to find out more about the hidden gems of the city.
Describe your town in three words.
Events; Equestrian; Culture.
Do you have any exciting upcoming events?
A few, actually! We have our annual Antiques In The Heart of Aiken show and sale, running from 10.00am-6.00pm on 4-6 February 2016, and from 10.00am-4.00pm on 7 February 2016. This annual show brings over 20 antique dealers from around the country to display and sell museum quality merchandise. Restoration experts will be available, and fun and informative lectures will be held.
The antiques show and sale will be held at Aiken Center For The Arts, 122 Laurens Street SW, Aiken, +1 803-641-9094.
Finally, shortly after our Antiques In The Heart of Aiken show, we have our memorial event to the Battle Of Aiken, which runs from 19-21 February 2016. This is a chance to join us to see history come alive with cannons, cavalry horses, and living history experts. For three days, actors will eat, sleep, live and fight in a painstakingly recreated version of the town as it was in 1865. This War Between the States event has grown from a few hundred men with muskets to a full-blown Civil War festival. In addition to battle reenactments, there are authentic 19th-century military encampments, living history presentations, reproductions of medical facilities, an engineer and signal service, and civilian portrayals. Food vendors will also be available.
The Battle of Aiken event takes place at the Confederate Memorial Park, 1210 Powell Pond Road, Aiken.
Where are the must-visit places in your town?
As one of the largest urban parks in America, with 2100 acres and 70 miles worth of trail to offer, Hitchcock Woods is definitely worth a visit. Downtown Aiken also has a lot to offer, particularly along Laurens Street, which is just filled with locally owned shops, cafés, a coffee roaster, a local brewery, fountains, horse statues each painted by various local artists… the list goes on! Hopelands Gardens is also not to be missed, with 14 acres of public gardens that are home to an amphitheater, 100-year-old cedar trees, duck ponds, and a thoroughbred hall of fame.
Tell us about the typical local cuisine in Aiken, and the go-to places to find it?
Aiken specializes in Southern cooking with a farm-to-table twist… grits, fried chicken, greens, local goats cheese, heirloom tomatoes. The best places to find this cuisine include The Track Kitchen, Magnolia Cafe, and Autens.
What brings tourists to Aiken?
World class events like Joye in Aiken, The Aiken Bluegrass Festival, and Aikens Makin, along with the equestrian draw for polo, our superb event facilities, horse races, driving races, and general riding in Hitchcock Woods.
What is Aiken’s most bizarre tradition?
Blessing Of The Hounds, otherwise known as Aiken Hounds. This is distinguished as being the oldest drag hunt in the nation. In a drag hunt, cloth saturated with fox scent is dragged across the terrain to create a trail for the hounds to follow. Mounted riders follow the pack. This year, the Reverend Joseph will once again officiate over the event. The ceremony pays homage to the various traditions of foxhunting, to the heritage of Aiken’s historic hunt culture, and to the skilled hounds that make this sport so engaging.
Where should culture lovers go in Aiken?
Aiken has made the list because we are a beautiful town that is full of history and charm. Where else hosts a group of artists from Juilliard every year? Where else has lobster races or world-class equestrian events? Where else has the history of the rich and the famous establishing their town? We are thrilled to have received this award.
Interview by Isabelle Pitman