I’d been starting to think that once you’d seen one spa, you’d seen them all. You know the type: cucumber-infused water in the lounge, New Age music on repeat and people quietly whispering as they shuffle along the hallway in too-large slippers en route to a treatment. There didn’t seem to be a single one that broke the mould—but then, I found Bota Bota spa in Montreal.
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The Montreal spa boat
Located along the waterfront near McGill Street in the Old Port, Bota Bota spa occupies a former ferry boat. Now permanently docked on the Saint Lawrence River, its multiple levels have been converted into treatment areas which stay true to the nautical theme by incorporating the original portholes as windows, and the metal catwalks as a way for ‘passengers’ to move around the spa while enjoying a fantastic view of the old city.
When I visited with a few girlfriends, it was a bright, sunny day with clear blue skies— the perfect backdrop, as many of the spa’s amenities are located outdoors. It’s worth noting that Bota Bota is open year-round, which makes a visit here one of the best things to do in Montreal in winter. We wrapped ourselves in the oversize, plush white robes that each visitor gets, slipped on some sandals then plodded out to the restaurant area where we toasted to the evening ahead with crisp glasses of sauvignon blanc. Spa-aaah!
While most spas encourage complete silence, the wonderful thing about Bota Bota is that there are communal areas designed for conversation, which means you can actually spend time with the friend/partner you went with instead of parting ways at the door. It’s no wonder the boat spa is a popular spot for couples and bachelorette parties.
After filling up with offerings from the savoury menu including the likes of charcuterie boards, salads and tender steak sandwiches, we headed over to the plush lounge area overlooking the harbour. Outfitted with white cushioned loungers, overstuffed couches and even hanging chairs, it’s the perfect spot to curl up with a good book, work on your tan or take a much-needed nap.
The Bota Bota water circuit
However, the reason most people venture over to Bota Bota Montreal is their famous water circuit, which is where we headed next. Taking up the top two floors, spa-goers rotate between piping hot saunas, steam rooms and the large hydro-pools with epic views of the city’s Old Port.
Those who want to give their pores a wakeup call can also submerge themselves into one of the freezing cold tubs in between sauna sits, which actually feels quite wonderful after heating your body from the inside out!
While silence is requested in the water circuit areas, there is another place to soak and chat: the pool area. Occupying a large spot back on land near the spa’s entrance, plunge pools are surrounded by day beds, hammocks, loungers and even a fire pit. The whole area is enveloped by foliage, creating a sound barrier from the port while still affording views of the area’s historic buildings.
Getting a Bota Bota massage
I decided I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t stop in for a massage (the things I do in the name of journalism!), so as the sun began to set I arrived in the treatment area where the spa-goers can enjoy services such as body wraps, facials and manicures. There’s even a signature Bota Bota massage, where the therapist relaxes tired muscles with choreographed movements set to music.
I’d booked one of the 60 minute relaxation massages, and as I stepped into the room I was charmed by the potholes looking out into the harbour, that made me feel more like I was on a cruise ship out at sea than docked in the middle of a bustling city.
It goes without saying that the massage was heavenly, and if I’d thought I was relaxed before during the water circuit, well, this sealed the deal. The hour flew by, and when the therapist gently stirred me from my comatose position, I was tempted to ask him to just let me sleep there all night.
Reluctantly I gathered my things and headed back to change, rejoining my friends who were equally blissful thanks to our rejuvenating stay. As we crossed back over to the dock and made our way along the boardwalk, we were greeted by a panoramic view of the twinkling city lights—the perfect ending to an incredible day on board my new favourite spa Bota Bota. Click here to book
Globe Guide tip: Book this tour to combine a Bota Bota visit with a bike tour of Montreal.
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Globe Guide travelled to Montreal as a guest of Tourisme Quebec. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles. This article was originally published in October 2015 and updated in December 2020.