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How I fell in love with Montreal Add to ...

The boat’s hull has been revamped into a change room and locker room, while the main deck houses its reception area, restaurant and treatment facilities. On the upper decks are a yoga room, relaxation areas and the spa’s main attraction, its water circuit, consisting of two saunas, a steam room, two outdoor hot tubs and cold baths.

“To do the water circuit in the right way, you have to go into a hot source, whether it is the sauna or the steam room, for 10 to 15 minutes,” Ms. Émond says. Next, it’s a “brief and courageous dip into a cold plunge for a few seconds.”

Finally, she recommends a 15-to-20-minute relaxation period on the terrace lounge chairs or indoor bean bag seats, and then back to the hot source to redo the circuit again. The process is meant to be good for one’s skin and circulation.

I start out with a 60-minute massage, then take a few rounds of the water circuit. Ms. Émond is right: It takes courage to jump into one of the bracing, cold baths after the warmth of the steam and sauna. But the effect is invigorating. As I flop onto one of the lounge chairs, the sound of the surrounding water lapping against the hull of the boat and the tranquillity of the nautical scenery help put me into a state of deep relaxation.

Pampered and loosened up, I’m ready for dinner.

Montreal has no shortage of great restaurants. There’s L’Express, an old-school French bistro in Le Plateau that has impeccable service and a knack for pumping out consistently well-prepared classics such as steak frites, fish soup and pork rillettes. There’s Joe Beef, operated by chefs David McMillan and Frédéric Moran, known for drool-worthy dishes such as steaks, lobster spaghetti and the gourmet nod to KFC: Foie Gras Double Down. And there’s DNA, a shiny, modern restaurant in Old Montreal with an ever-changing menu based on seasonal, local ingredients.

It’s no wonder that international heavyweight chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Daniel Boulud want a piece of this city’s thriving culinary scene. Mr. Ramsay opened Laurier Gordon Ramsay in August, giving a celebrity facelift to the pre-existing Rotisserie Laurier BBQ. (Although the remodelled restaurant’s rotisserie chicken and down-home fare is tasty and reasonably priced, some Montrealers balk at the idea of a British chef helming their beloved family joint.) Meanwhile, Mr. Boulud is planning to open Maison Boulud, featuring his signature French cuisine, at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal in early 2012, when the hotel, which has been under extensive reconstruction, reopens.

This night, however, I’m eager to try Le Bremner in Old Montreal, a new seafood restaurant of local star chef Chuck Hughes. Earlier this year, Mr. Hughes became the second Canadian, after Rob Feenie, to win the Iron Chef America cooking competition, and was the first Montreal chef to compete on the show. His style of cooking represents the kind of casual, rustic food for which the city is becoming increasingly famous.

Finding Le Bremner can be a little tricky, though. Blink and you’ll miss it. The cozy restaurant, located at 361 Rue Saint-Paul East,is hidden down a short flight of stairs and bears only a sign that reads: “Restaurant.” It has no website.

Inside the buzzing dining room, I happily tuck into an assortment of small dishes, luscious raw oysters, bacon and cheddar foccacia bread and a pan full of sardines. In spite of its secluded location, the bar and dining room are bustling.

I feel slightly giddy. This is the cool, hip Montreal I’ve long admired. And this time, I’m seeing it from the inside.

IF YOU GO

Where to eat Lawrence Restaurant: This charming little restaurant is jam-packed during its weekend brunch, and for good reason. The kitchen delivers simple, elegant and totally delicious dishes such as smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, eggs Florentine and French toast. 514-503-1070; 5201 Blvd. St. Laurent; lawrencerestaurant.com

Réservoir: For late-night drinks, sample Réservoir’s own microbrews while you gorge on charcuterie, cheeses and other bar snacks scrawled on its chalkboard menu. 9 Rue Duluth East; 514-849-7779; brasseriereservoir.ca

Getting there

Porter offers non-stop flights between Montreal and Toronto and Halifax, and connecting flights from Sault Ste Marie, St. John’s, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Windsor. flyporter.com; 1-888-619-8622.

Air Canada also flies daily into the city from across Canada. aircanada.com.

Via Rail departs several times daily from Ottawa and Toronto to Montreal. viarail.ca



The writer travelled courtesy of Porter Airlines.

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