The Much-Maligned Pedalò


view of grotto in levanto from pedalo

I don’t remember the last time I was out on a pedalò, but I suspect I was just a kid, and the location was some kind of artificial lake in Connecticut or Texas or in Central Park for all I know.   But I’ll admit, I wasn’t exactly bursting with excitement to get back on one.

The pedalò is the poor-man’s boat, the low-cost substitute for an outboard motor, a speedboat, a sailboat, a catamaran.  It is small, slow, and unstable.   But the pedalò is a ubiquitous Italian seaside accoutrement, seen on every coast from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian to the Ionian Seas, and so when our friends recommended taking one out the other day for a spin, I saw no reason not to go.

If you’ve never been on one, a pedalò is a small flat-bottomed boat that is propelled by a paddlewheel that you power yourself by pedaling it like a bicycle, but from a reclined position in the gorgeous afternoon sun.  It’s 100% zero-impact on the environment.  You don’t get anywhere fast, but that’s not the point.  The point is to get out on the water away from the crowds on the beach and to paddle yourself toward the snippets of beach that are inaccessible from land, dropping anchor just offshore and diving into the Mediterranean like mermaids and mermen.

Though you can’t get far on these boats, you can get far enough to find yourself in a different world.  And its a bit like the difference between driving and walking; when you’re on a pedalò, you notice more of the landscape, spot hidden gems that you’d never seen before.

We spent two wonderful hours floating around and paddling in the Bay of Levanto.  And I discovered something: the pedalò is much better than you expect.  In fact, from now on, I’m recommending it to my clients.

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