After a night of dancing, 4am peking duck, and generally making the most of a 40-hour Montreal getaway (and the $4 tequila special), my Asian twin and I woke up in our AirBnB feeling like dehydrated corpses. We were in need of some serious rejuvenation and where better to do that than at a spa.
However, after a weekend of constant eating, we were not looking forward to forcing our fats into revealing bathing suits but I imagine that’s what one pieces were invented for! We poured ourselves into an Uber and headed down to the Old Port of Montreal where Bota Bota Spa is moored.
Bota Bota is a “spa-on-the-water,” on a boat. A 1950’s ferryboat, if you want to get specific (which I will since that’s the topic of this post).
What is now known as Bota Bota originally began it’s tenure on the water in the 50’s as a ferryboat called The Arthur Cardin, sailing between Sorel and Berthier in Quebec. In the late 60’s, it was renamed L’Escale as it transitioned into a show boat and took to the Richelieu River. After an illustrious stint featuring shows with headliners like Ginette Reno, it was purchased by the Ermond Family who grandly envisioned it’s future as a floating spa, featuring an invigorating water circuit.
WHAT IS A WATER CIRCUIT?
While Bota Bota offers the standard range of pampering services – facials, massages, mani/pedi, etc… – the real stand-out experience is the water circuit. The Nordic Baths put thermotherapy into effect, implementing hot and cold water for health benefits and in this case, you start with the dry saunas and/or steam baths to dilate your pores and evacuate toxins, followed by cold water plunges and showers to speed up the heart rate and close the pores. You cap off the experience by relaxing for a minimum of 20 minutes till your heart rate returns to normal. Repeat the cycle 3 to 4 times for optimal results.
BENEFITS OF WATER CIRCUIT
Thermotherapy is used in the rehabilitation by relieving muscle and joint pain, stimulating heart function, restoring elasticity and firmness to the skin (who doesn’t want to look years younger?!), decreasing stress and tension, improving blood circulation, and improving your immune system through the increased production of white blood cells.
Having woken up too late to beat the early morning brunch crowd for seats at the nearby favourite, Olive y Gourmando, we slowly stumbled towards the Old Port. It wasn’t hard to find the floating spa, anchored in the St. Lawrence River, recognizing the distinct, multi-level vessel by the refurbished, sleek black outer shell. We made our way up the wooden ramps, leading to the entrance of Bota Bota, and upon entry were greeted by the familiar hushed atmosphere one expects from a spa and attendants dressed in chic Breton stripe shirts.
If you’re looking for a cool experience with a side of pampering, Bota Bota Spa will satisfy you on all fronts for the following reasons:
01/ IT CAN BE BUDGET-FRIENDLY
If you’re on a budget, the floating spa has options that you may want to consider taking advantage of. Aim to arrive before 11am or after 6pm on Mondays through Thursdays to receive a $20 discount and take note whether you’re going during high season or a holiday as those days will be pricier. If a couple of hours is all you need, there is also a cost-efficient 3-hour pass.
02/ THE TRANQUIL AREAS
The process of a traditional water circuit takes you from hot to cold, getting your heart pumping, so it’s important to relax and Bota Bota provides beautiful areas to do that. Swing in sturdy hammock chairs, crafted with thick rope or lounge in the original porthole windows of the ferryboat for a great view of the surrounding port.
03/ IMPRESSIVE CONSTRUCTION PROCESS
To say that the conversion from showboat to spa didn’t take a day is a massive understatement as the entire ordeal actually took 30 months. It took more than one hundred people – architects, plumbers, graphic designers, electricians, etc… – working tirelessly on the vessel, from transforming the interior into client-focused spaces to the shell of Bota Bota which is 90% new.
04/ HIGH-LEVEL ARCHITECTURE
The mastermind behind the refurbishment of the modernized urban spa was senior partner at Sid Lee Architecture, Jean Pelland. Their vision was to create cozy, dark indoor spaces – conducive to introspection throughout the five levels of the ferryboat – as well as optimize the opportunity to highlight the bright, expansive views of the city from the upper decks. They wanted to preserve the ambiance of an ocean liner journey while incorporating the opulence of a spa.
05/ SUSTAINABLY FOCUSED
It makes sense that a spa that’s on-the-water, seamlessly co-existing with it’s surroundings, would seek to be as nature-friendly as possible. In a renewable exchange similar to geothermics, energy for controlling the climate indoors and heating small bodies of water is drawn directly from the Saint Lawrence River. A sustainable infrastructure was implemented in the creation of the aluminum bridges and gangways leading to the spa and from the boat to other tranquil areas.
06/ SUBMARINE-LIKE CHANGE ROOMS
What was originally the engine room was completely gutted to be transformed into moody change rooms. As you descend down the main staircase leading to the wooden benches, showers, and spacious lockers with large, stencilled letters spanning four lockers, you’ll spot a red rule painted along that indicates the waterline. The spa even thought to include a plastic bag dispenser for wet bathing suits!
07/ THE "ONBOARD" DINING
While our hangovers demanded a greasy meal, we made due with hair-of-the-dog in the form of a spicy caesar, sipped while reclining comfy loungers and perused the seasonal menu at Bota Bota. Operated by La Traversée, the onboard restaurant sources local produce for dishes like the delicately-flavoured mushroom ravioli we devoured. If you opted for the 3-hour pass, enjoy your meal at your leisure since a visit to the dining area adds 2 hours to your stay.
08/ A GARDEN RETREAT
A haven from the harsh Canadian winter, the development of the Bota Bota Gardens – located a short walk across aluminum gangplanks – provides a cool respite from the balmy summer heat. In addition to full, pool-sized water circuit baths, the Gardens boast a luxurious waterfall, an infinity and whirl pool, a cold bath, steam room – all encompassed within an expertly manicured jungle of trees and bushes, shielding the area from view. A regular Garden of Eden in the middle of Montreal!
09/ HABITAT 67
Bota Bota is anchored at a prime vantage point on the Saint Lawrence River to view the recognizable housing complex, Habitat 67. Distinctive and visibly iconic to Montreal, the model community was designed by Israeli/Canadian architect Moshe Safdie as his master thesis in architecture at McGill. Composed of 354 identical concrete structures, in various arrangements, the repeated, prefabricated forms was a proposed solution to providing private and natural environments in a dense urban city.
BOTA BOTA spa-sur-l’eau
Old Port of Montreal
Corner McGill and de la Commune West
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
How we felt after Bota Bota Spa: