In my defence, my two colleagues and I were battling a snowstorm in the dark, in downtown Montreal, knee-deep in newly arrived snow. A dog walker saved us from frostbite by pointing to the other side of the St Lawrence River and a nearby footbridge.
From the outside, Bota Bota appears quite small; it’s only when you walk up the gangplank and into the reception area you realise that the boat is spacious. It’s also a dedicated spa; in fact, it’s the world’s first floating spa and has only recently opened.
Turning an old ferry boat into a Scandinavian spa was a tall order for the design team and took two years to complete. “Our team set out to recreate an environment reminiscent of an ocean liner voyage, even though the ship would remain at dock, contemplating the Montreal skyline and the river,” says Jean Pelland, project design architect and senior partner at Sid Lee Architecture.
All the nautical features of the boat remain – the 678 portholes, the wrought-iron rails and stairs and the wooden decks, but the minimalist design, using calming, soft colours of grey, black and white is welcoming and restful.
Spas are something girls like, but owner Natalie Emond told me that men are making up half of their customers and there has been a deliberate attempt to appeal to both sexes.
After checking into reception, we were given a bath robe and towel and taken downstairs to our locker to change into our swimwear. The spa focuses on water treatments, to energise and aid relaxation. With the temperature minus 14 outside, I was not sure I wanted to try the hot tub out on deck, but for me it was the high point of our visit.
There were perhaps twenty steps to take to the tub, across a snowy deck. Once inside my womb-like sanctuary, I was able to view the skyline, like a string of fairy lights and all around me, outside the tub, the inky black of the river.
If I tilted my head backwards, I could feel the snow flakes entering my mouth and I even scooped up a handful of snow from the outside of the tub to make a snowball. It was surprisingly relaxing, being cosseted by the warm water with the vibrancy of the city just across the river.
My colleagues had tried the sauna and steam room and then we cooled down in the plunge pool, which takes a bit of courage if you are not used to it. An alternative is to take a cold shower. Wrapping up in your bathrobe, it’s now time to relax, perhaps positioning yourself in a large porthole, padded for the purpose and reading from a selection of magazines, or you could choose a squishy sofa.
Downstairs are the 30 treatment rooms, all with portholes and mood lighting. It’s a dedicated quiet zone to afford the maximum benefit of peace and relaxation to the clients. On offer are several facials (from $85), body treatment (from $60) and massages, either Californian or Swedish (from $90). Both are fairly firm, though the Californian is slightly more gentle.
If you are not up for being pummelled or don’t want a facial, a manicure or pedicure could be the answer. The Bota Chic room itself is a delight. Full length windows flood the room with light and wonderful views of the city; leaf patterned mats in beige and black, light grey sofas and orange and red cushions help to make the space feel bright and fun.
Bota Bota has a café serving reasonably priced light meals and drinks for spa customers, so you could spend several hours here.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Montreal, it’s worth a visit. Just try to choose a day when it’s not snowing. www.botabota.ca