Guests of Quisisana Resort, a 56-acre retreat at the eastern edge of the White Mountains, are a devoted bunch. Many return on the same week, year after year, to catch up with friends, eat “Quisi’s” famous waffles, and gaze at the mountains. One longtime visitor even recorded the sound of the screen door slamming at his favorite cabin to use as his text notification. People who came when they were kids now bring their grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren, to reconnect in a kayak or on the shuffleboard court.
“Families have been coming to Quisisana for far longer than we’ve owned it,” says Sam Orans, who practically grew up there. His mother purchased the property in Center Lovell, Maine, about a two-hour drive from the North Shore, in 1984, after bringing the family for vacations for more than a decade.
It’s easy to understand why. The crescent-shaped property hugs the western edge of Lake Kezar, yielding spectacular sunsets that reflect on the water as the light dips behind the mountains. The peaceful lake, frequented by loons and edged by a sandy beach, invites diving off the dock, exploring via canoe or stand-up paddle board, and quiet contemplation. The waterfront is an easy walk from any of Quisisana’s cozy green-and-white cottages, tucked into pine groves throughout. Disconnecting to enjoy the pine needles underfoot and the company of fellow guests is nearly mandatory—the area is a dead zone for cell service, and complimentary Wi-Fi is only available in the main lodge.
Even the three meals a day, signaled by the ringing of the dinner bell, are an invitation to relax and unwind. Of course there’s Maine lobster and blueberry pie, but the kitchen goes the extra mile with dishes like smoked prime rib with morel mushroom jus and avocado tartine with slow roasted tomato. A special kids’ meal time allows adults to enjoy a quiet meal on their own.
But more than the spectacular views and gourmet meals, what draws vacationers to Quisisana year after year is live music. Every night, guests are treated to a different event, from chamber concerts to opera to musicals, performed by employees who keep the resort running by day, waiting tables and cleaning guest rooms, then take a star turn by night.
The result is pure magic—seeing a performer harmonizing in “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent one night, then chatting with them the next day about their performances, as they deliver breakfast to your table, yields an experience unlike any other.
“It’s a beautiful process and hard to believe if you haven’t seen it,” says Marshall Taylor, Quisisana’s artistic director. “I can’t think of another place where so many young people form such a tight community so quickly…. Those feelings of love and support are multiplied by the guests, who see [performers] as rock stars and want to get to know everything about them.”
Quisisana alums include everyone from a cast member from Hamilton, on hiatus while the pandemic kept Broadway dark, to world-famous mezzo soprano Denyce Graves, who credits her time at the resort with helping her master stage fright.
“Quisisana has a gravitational pull all her own,” says Bridget Carrow, a performer who will be returning for her fourth summer this year. “Every person who calls her home is not only interesting, but welcoming, inspiring, and deeply kind, too.”
Whether it’s your first season at the resort, or you’ve been coming forever, the combination is irresistible, and deeply rooted. The property has hosted a mix of nature camp and performance space for generations: Through a series of owners, music has remained at the center of its charm. But last summer, as the pandemic took hold, Orans, who now owns and operates the property with his wife, Nathalie, feared that for the first time in a century, there would be no music under the pines. When Broadway and all other theatre and music venues shut down last spring, the couple invited a small group of employees up to Maine, uncertain of what the summer would hold.
“We told them to just come,” Sam recalls. “We didn’t know if we could offer them work, but we knew we could feed and shelter them.” The couple quickly realized that the resort was an ideal location for social distancing, with its 40 separate cabins allowing guests to quarantine in place, with meals eaten outdoors or delivered to cabins in inclement weather. Staff agreed to a strict isolation policy—almost no one left the resort over the course of the summer—which enabled them to perform together without masks after a two-week quarantine. Rather than putting on nightly full-scale shows like Seussical the Musical in their indoor theater, performances were scaled back to fit a makeshift outdoor stage, featuring a musical review of past years and chamber music, with chairs grouped in pods and distanced from the stage and other guests.
Hope springs eternal—as of press time, the plan for summer 2021 is to return to a regular indoor performance schedule, including staging The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, originally slated for 2020. But the Orans know that whatever the summer brings, they can pivot to enable people to gather safely for live performances, paddle-boarding, and waffles. Quisisana loosely translates from Italian to mean “a place of healing”—and this summer, perhaps more than any other since the resort’s inception, that’s what guests and employees alike deserve.
Rates for 2021 start at $225 per person per night, including all meals, nightly musical entertainment, and non-motorized water sports. Reservations are taken exclusively by phone at 207-925-3500. quisisanaresort.com