Italy has been one of the countries around the world worse hit by the spread of COVID19, with the virus bringing cities to a standstill. With Venice under lockdown, a non-profit group made up of inventive and passionate women has been using traditional boats or batele to deliver much-needed supplies to the community.

Row Venice is dedicated to preserving the traditional style of Venetian rowing (voga alla veneta) where rowers stand up facing forward, a stance made iconic by gondoliers. The group usually organises fun events such as rowing lessons and food tours, but with the current state of affairs has had to be inventive with how they use their skills in a safe and positive way.

Row Venice delivering good
Row Venice delivering food © Row Venice

“Once Venice was locked down to control the spread of COVID19, more people started ordering the delivery of organic produce from private producers on the mainland to their homes in Venice. Given our traditional Venetian batele and competent rowing instructors were all idle, we decided to volunteer our services to help with the additional demand. We found we had no trouble finding producers who needed our assistance,” Jane and Nancy of The Row Venice Team told Lonely Planet.

Mainland producers have been bringing food by car to Piazzale Roma, where it is then loaded into the boats and transported by oar to pre-defined pickup points or to the doorsteps of clients. The boats are not the same as the well-known gondole, but refined reproductions of batele a coda di gambero, a historical boat used for purposes like this.

Jane and Nancy said that the idea came from wanting to offer some form of tangible help during the crisis. By doing this, not only are they helping households get the food that they need, but they are also helping suppliers meet a demand surge. “It also gives our talented instructors a chance to row and maintain their fitness level while the racing season is on hold, and to demonstrate that ecologically-friendly transport solutions are possible, and in many cases, preferable,” Jane and Nancy said.

So far the reaction has been very positive, and residents love having their orders arrive directly to them by Venetian rowboat. “This is precisely the way all transport was conducted before the advent of the outboard motor in the 1950s. The producers are also very grateful; they can make sure their orders get filled. In the case of one producer, they had no other way to fulfil orders by boat. The whole service has been very gratifying for us.”

More information on Row Venice is available at the official website.

Keep up to date with Lonely Planet's latest travel-related COVID-19 news here.

Read More: The canals of Venice look very different without tourists

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