If you’re anything like me, you may find it hard to stay in touch with your inner hedonist during the long, cold, dark months of winter. Sure, comfort food and roaring fires and egg nog can be pleasant, but wearing twenty layers of clothing just to go outside without suffering unbearable pain is not in alignment with a truly pleasure-seeking lifestyle.
This is where Bota Bota comes in. It’s a spa. On a boat. In the St. Lawrence River. For a very reasonable price, you can hang out in your bikini or Speedo all day long, doing the rounds of saunas and hot tubs and bean-bag chairs and swinging hammocks. And if you’re in the mood for splurging you can throw in a massage and a pedicure and a black tea body scrub, and even have lunch. In your bathing suit. At a spa. On a boat. In the St. Lawrence. In the middle of winter.
Hedonism isn’t your thing? How about health? Putting yourself through the classic Scandinavian water circuit has been shown to reduce stress, relieve muscle tension and pain, boost the immune system, and clear toxins from your body. It works like this: you spend 10-15 minutes in either a dry sauna or a steam room; then you do a quick plunge in icy cold water; then you relax for 20 minutes, either in a hot tub or in a quiet place, preferably in the sun, preferably with a nice view. Then you do it again. Going through the circuit three to five times has been scientifically proven to make you happy, and we all know how important that is.
Bota Bota boasts two dry saunas and one steam room; a cold tub inside and one outside, and two hot tubs, both outside. If you find the cold tub too cold (a full-body plunge does take the breath away, but it does wonders for aching muscles, and I bet it’s good for your skin), there are many strategically placed showers that you can adjust to a more comfortable temperature. Personally I loved the outdoor hot tubs, especially the one on the north deck with a view of the downtown skyline. Because I visited in December, the outdoor air temperature was a little chilly, which meant that plenty of steam was coming off the water. At the same time the sun was low in the sky, so that when you’re actually in the tub, you’re enveloped in a cocoon of bright, sunny mist, through which you catch glimpses of sky and skyscrapers and birds and the odd plane flying by. Magical. Also in the that hot tub is a huge faucet spewing a heavy stream of water that feels like a massage on your aching shoulders when you stand under it. Heaven.
If I have any qualms about Bota Bota they are tiny in comparison to the awesomeness. I’m not sure who invented that classic spa/massage relaxation muzak crap that you hear in all places that encourage relaxation, but whoever it is they deserve to suffer some horrible form of aural torture themselves for the rest of their life. It is unbearable to listen to the same slow, nonsensical chord changes played by the worst synthesized strings, over and over and over for four hours. At least change the CD to some other horrible muzak if that’s all you’ve got. Or how about silence. Silence is golden, and doesn’t warp your mind like muzak. Moving on. . . . I liked the rubber bracelet with the key fob on it for the locker. But the little piece of metal connecting the fob to the bracelet gets very hot in the sauna. Ouch. Also, a bathing suit spinner in the change room would be a great investment, so that clients don’t have to carry a dripping wet suit home in a plastic bag and have it freeze solid in their car. And, last thing, I really wasn’t into the incense. It smells disgusting and it’s not great for people with asthma.
Finally, regular spa-goers should be aware that this is a very urban spa. Unlike other Scandinavian-style places, it is not set in a forest, and it is not made primarily of wood. The views from the floor-to-ceiling windows are stunning, but they are rather industrial. This can add to the experience—finding peace and tranquility in the middle of a huge city is a particularly modern experience and I like it. But if you don’t like metal and ceramic and a downtown skyscape this may not be your thing. That being said, you can sit on the east side of the boat and look at the water, in which case you should go in the morning so you get the sun.
Those quibbles aside, a day or more at Bota Bota will help you to remember that, in the paraphrased words of French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, we all have an invincible summer inside ourselves.
Bota Bota is located at Promenade du Vieux-Port, Montréal, Québec. Phone: (514) 284-0333.