Today, one of the last ways to disconnect from our digital lives is by being immersed in water. Several designers have picked up on the contemporary need for rest, relaxation, and contemplation, designing spas that satisfy this desire. Discover five of the best spas and hot springs throughout Canada that will let you disconnect— from natural springs in the BC wilderness, to a repurposed barge in downtown Montreal.
A repurposed ferry sits in the Old Port district of Montreal, and has been given new life as a floating spa anchored at the foot of the iconic Silo number 5, a local landmark.
Bota Bota was conceived by Sid Lee, a creative agency that works in branding, experience design, architecture, and media.
The barge’s location—between the historic part of the city and Île Ste-Hélène—offers guests sweeping views of downtown and of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat ’67. Bota Bota’s indoor and outdoor water circuit, which comprises plunge pools, saunas, hot tubs and treatment rooms.
On shore, there are larger pools and a few additional saunas. “The project represents a fusion of disciplines: building architecture, naval architecture, interior, industrial and graphic design, as well as building and naval engineering,” according to Sid Lee.
The ship used to run as a ferry between Sorel and Berthier, two smaller cities on either side of the St-Lawrence seaway. In its current incarnation, Bota Bota has kept several nautical cues throughout the space, including hub-like windows that let bathers peek out to the icy river waters.
Liard River Hot Springs, Northern BC
Located off the Alaska highway, just South of the Yukon Territory, Liard River Hot Springs are a natural formation of warm pools that are open to the public for swimming. According to the BC Parks Service, they are the largest natural hot springs in Canada.
Natural springs bring warm water to the surface, which can reach temperatures of up to 52 degrees Celsius. Different temperature ranges are available in various basins, as the warm water coming from underground mixes with cold water from the Liard River.
The provincial park has been open since 1957, but a new visitor’s pavilion by BC studio Formline Architecture was built in 2012, to offer travelers a place to change and enjoy the pools.
The angular wooden structure overlooks the main basin, dubbed Alpha pool, and has a deck above the water with stairs and stepped seating, for easier access.
“The design addresses the needs of the rugged northern climate while creating a welcoming environment for the hot spring bathers,” according to Formline Architecture’s website.
In addition to the main building, Formline also renovated a network of boardwalks that crisscross the park, helping protect its fragile natural ecosystems.
Strøm Spa Nordique, Québec
Over the past few years, Strøm has made a name for themselves in Quebec as one of the best Scandinavian spas in Canada. For the latest addition to their offering, Strøm tapped Montreal designers LemayMichaud for a bath house in the province’s capital.
Located by the water, on the Samuel de Champlain promenade, the spa takes advantage of the natural slope of the site to provide sweeping views of the waterfront. A cluster of gray and black buildings is meant to take a back seat to the expansive scenery, which guests can enjoy in outdoor pools or through the floor-to-ceiling windows that face the river.
“Right from the exploratory and development phase of the project, the first source of inspiration was the St. Lawrence River, the majesty and quiet strength that emanates from it,” according to LemayMichaud.
Fogo Island Inn, Fogo Island
Fogo Island’s remote location, rugged terrain, and world-class artist residencies have given the place a legendary reputation. Since 2008, Fogo Island Arts has facilitated the creative process for many artists, in secluded cabins designed by Newfoundland-born Todd Saunders.
Fogo Island Inn, a 29-key hotel also designed by Saunders, offers some spa amenities in its rocky, Nordic setting. An exterior terrace has two hot tubs that allow swimmers to peek out at the horizon and the ocean.
“Once the decision was made to build the sauna on the rooftop, there was no reason to reinvent a longstanding Northern European tradition,” according to the Fogo Island Inn.
There are two saunas inside, one facing inland, to the South, while the other looks north towards the ocean. Inside, a large sauna on three levels is lined with wood and heated by an old-school cast iron stove.
“We learned from the best and hired Sami Rintala and Dagur Eggertsson, two Northern European architects based in Norway, to design the saunas.”
Scandinave Spa, Blue Mountains
Nestled at the foot of Ontario’s blue Mountains, Scandinave Spa offers a collection of eclectic buildings landscaped around pools with curved outlines that give the impression of being within a natural formation.
The chalet-inspired design uses materials like weathered wood, corrugated metal, and natural stone, providing a homey feel to the sequence of spaces.
“The design utilizes the existing strengths of the property by incorporating natural environments, cultural features, view sheds, and microclimates to create an atmosphere of retreat and relaxation,” said Envision-Tatham, the Ontario-based design firm that was responsible for the site and landscape design.
Five different structures make up the complex, and include treatment rooms, relaxation areas, indoor pools and saunas.
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