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New Life for Nantucket's Oldest Resort

>Nantucket Hotel exterior

Until recently, every visitor who’s driven or walked past the historic Nantucket Hotel in the past four years—including me—has voiced some version of the same remark: “What a shame.” Long a point of pride on the island—it had opened with great fanfare in 1891, enticing tourists with its croquet lawns, ballroom and orchestra, and invitations to try the novel pleasures of “sea bathing”—the resort had fallen on hard times. After a developer who’d bought the property in 2005 went bankrupt trying to turn it into a luxury condo club, the graceful wood-shingled manse was shuttered, its stately front staircase boarded up, its sweeping veranda a sad reminder of more prosperous times.

This summer, at last, glory days seem to have returned to the vaunted old property. In fact, thanks to the careful attention of new owners—who gave the hotel a stem-to-stern overhaul in time for Fourth of July weekend—the newly christened Nantucket Hotel & Resort seems poised to enter its most vibrant period yet.

>Nantucket Hotel nook

Mark and Gwenn Snider, the couple responsible for the property’s rebirth, were already established Cape Cod island hoteliers before they purchased the resort. Their first enterprise, the Winnetu Oceanside Resort on Martha’s Vineyard, quickly became a favorite family beachside resort when it opened in 2002. Since then, the Sniders had dreamed of creating a sister property on Nantucket—one that would echo the Winnetu’s casually genteel vibe. Nantucket, they reasoned, had plenty of quaint B&Bs and upscale boutique hotels, but very few options in between; they envisioned a place where parents could enjoy a day of sandy, barefoot fun with their kids, then retire for a sophisticated meal and bottle of wine.

Though they first bid on the Nantucket resort in 2010, the Sniders weren’t awarded ownership until January of this year. By the time they’d secured the necessary permits to start work on the property, the Sniders had exactly 184 days to get the hotel gut-renovated, redecorated, and staffed by June 29 (their self- and ordinance-imposed deadline). No one—not even the contractors they hired—believed it could be done. But with dedication and hard work they pulled it off, and on the 29th threw open the doors for a public reception. More than 700 local residents and business owners showed up that evening, Mark Snider says, to see the resort’s new incarnation up close.

“I think everyone there that night felt proud,” Snider remembers, “and not just those of us who’d rebuilt it. It was like the hotel belonged to the whole island.”

>Nantucket Hotel suite

A visit I made to the resort last week revealed that, amazingly, despite the whirlwind renovation, nothing about the property’s redesign feels hurried. The 30 guestrooms and suites—all crisply upholstered in nautical blue-and-white textiles, with airy glass-cube showers, gleaming kitchenettes, and cleverly hidden Murphy beds for extra guests—have the sort of understated elegance that can take years to get right (even the books lining the shelves of my suite were a perfectly curated mix of Tom Wolfe, Balzac, and guides to Nantucket birdlife). The hallways and common areas are lined with graceful black-and-white photos showing the island’s history, and punctuated with window seats for admiring views over the town’s church spires. Parked out front is a vintage 1934 Ford bus, which Mark Snider had refurbished to shuttle guests to and from local beaches. Even the food and cocktail menus at the poolside restaurant, Breeze, seem studiously cultivated (I was equally wowed by a bowl of plump local mussels in sparkling wine broth and a neon-bright prickly-pear margarita).

>Nantucket Hotel cocktail

The Sniders are far from finished, however. They have big plans to expand the resort in the coming months—including completion of a spectacular new freestanding ballroom (far larger than the hotel’s original, and suitable for weddings). By next summer, the property will include a rooftop cocktail bar, a 4,400-square-foot spa and fitness center, and three private cottages where guests can bring their pets.

Just as ambitious, though, are the Sniders’ aims to extend the scope of what a Nantucket hotel can be. This summer, in an attempt to bridge the age-old divide between Nantucketers and Vineyarders, they’ve begun offering “Two Island Vacation” packages that let travelers stay a few days in each of their resorts, with ferry travel in between. There’s also their plan to build interest in Nantucket as a year-round destination—by being the only hotel on the island to stay open through the winter.

>Nantucket Hotel taxi

“Can’t you imagine a big New Year’s party here?” the hotel’s General Manager, Jamie Holmes, asked me, sweeping his arm around the hotel lobby. “Wouldn’t that be fantastic?”

It would, actually. I can’t think of a better place to ring in the new.

Doubles from $435.

Guestblogger Sarah Gold is a regular contributor to TravelandLeisure.com.

Photos by Sarah Gold

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