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Camp it up... to see the magic of Venice.

IT was a stunning picture - even if partly hidden among the pine trees on the edge of the Venetian lagoon.

The group of Italians obviously agreed as they took in every detail...on the 26-inch colour TV set inside their tent!

But then to call it a tent was a bit like calling the centre of their attention - Inter Milan's game with AC Milan - just a football match. This was a tent with a floored patio extension, pot plants and beaded curtains. You stood a better chance of an aria around a cooker the size of an Aga than a sing-song around a camp fire.

Just as football's no longer just a game, there's a huge gap between Baden-Powell's idea of camping and life in the great outdoors in the 90s.

Camp Mediterraneo, on a wide sweep of sand at Treporti - less than a day away from Britain if you take the Motorail from Calais to Milan - shows just how much things have changed.

With two swimming pools, a hydro pool, gym, tennis courts, archery, superb restaurants and entertainment every night, it's not surprising that many campers admit, if rather sheepishly, that they never leave the campsite once during their holiday.

Yet there's more to life than comparing what line in lampshades the Santucciss and the Schmidts prefer in their tents this year.

In a word, Venice - a 35-minute ferry ride away, from nearby Punta Sabbioni - a city which, despite the hordes of tourists, still has the power to hold all-comers in its spell.

The No.1 vaporetto along the Grand Canal is the best bus ride in the world, sweeping past palace after majestic palace as it snakes away from St Mark's Square...gems like the Palazzo Dario, with its coloured marble facade, the Ca' d'Oro (the House of Gold) and the elegant Palazzo Grassi.

Napoleon called St Mark's Square the most magnificent drawing-room in Europe, but I'm sure he would have caught the next gondola to Elba if he had to sip an overpriced cup of coffee there now, with an overwhelming smell of pigeon wafting up his nose.

But it's only a minor moan. The size and magnificence of the square and the cathedral are still breathtaking.

St Mark's, the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto Bridge are on everyone's must-see list, but the real joy of Venice is just wondering off...getting lost and stumbling across deserted squares and hidden-away churches.

Incidentally, don't miss the Santa Maria dei Miracoli, which looks like a gigantic jewel box and is a favourite church for Venetians to get married in.

Every twist and turn in Venice opens up a new delight. And, of course, there are plenty of wine bars where you can drink in the culture.

Long before the customary mid-morning espresso, Italians gather for a shot of grappa, then at 11 they stop again for an ombra, a small glass of wine served in a special glass.

Venice is one of those cities to visit again and again. I will be back. And I will be camping - just to see if someone actually manages to take along the kitchen sink!

FACT FILE

14 nights with Eurocamp (01565 62 62 62), including ferry crossing, from pounds 299 in May rising to pounds 845 high season for two adults and two children. Motorail: Calais-Milan is a relaxing way to get to Italy and avoids long motorway drives. A car and family of four costs pounds 684 return, including overnight couchettes. Bookings: 0171-203 7000.

Italian Tourist Office, 1 Princes St., London W1 (0891 600 280, premium rates).
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Drew, Chris
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 22, 1998
Words:600
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