How's the Serenissima?

John Brunton finds peace, quiet and more than a dash of Italian style while 'roughing it' in a tented lodge.

CAMPING in Venice does not sound the most glamorous way to stay in one of the world's most romantic cities and, indeed, there are no camping sites in the Serenissima itself. There are plenty in the surrounding countryside and beaches but a newcomer offers a unique experience.

Federico and Emanuela Padoan describe I Canonici di San Marco, about 30 minutes west of Venice, as a "luxurious tented lodge" and as we walk down a pretty meadow that is actually their back garden, I feel as if I'm arriving in some luxury safari lodge. Instead of zebras and lions,

I can see a partridge preening itself outside the entrance and I'm told to expect to see hares hopping across the field as the sun begins to set. Deepest Africa this may not be but the canals and the Doge's palace could be a million miles away.

Pulling back the tent flap and walking into the lodge, I'm at first surprised at just how large and comfortable it is. Resembling a spacious studio apartment, it has every luxurious mod con you could imagine, a colonial-style ceiling fan for the hot months and, crucially, mosquito screens everywhere.

Federico is a keen interior designer and has decorated the lodge, which can sleep up to four, with tasteful antiques. The wardrobe is 1920s art nouveau, a decorative cast-iron grill under the sink comes from a bordello in Sicily and the rather small Victorian tin bathtub was found in an English flea market.

Fortunately, there is also a modern shower. There is a complimentary bottle of prosecco by the bedside, while breakfast is very Italian - cakes and pastries baked by Federico, strong coffee, fruit and yoghurt - discreetly left outside the lodge in the morning. What is so attractive about I Canonici is that staying here gives me the chance to enjoy the best of two worlds: easy, cheap access into Venice and the chance to explore the unspoilt countryside of the Veneto.

Rather than drive into Venice, which entails interminable traffic jams and prohibitively expensive car parks, I take a short pleasant walk along a picturesque canal to Mira Mirano station and 20 minutes later I'm getting out in Santa Lucia right on the Grand Canal - a return ticket costs €3.60 ($5). And, after a long day sightseeing, rather than get ripped off in the city, I hop back on the train, enjoy an aperitivo with Federico and Emanuela and then eat at nearby Da Conte, a wonderful restaurant with a wine list of vintages from the surrounding vineyards.

While it is tempting each day to head back to Venice, there is a lot to see nearby. The lodge is halfway between Mira - right on the Brenta Canal, which is lined by fabulous Palladian villas used as summer homes by Venetian nobility - and surprisingly hip Mirano, with its chic boutiques and bars, plus traditional osterie serving home cooking.

I Canonici has been taking bookings since the end of last year and is the first luxury tent lodge of its kind in Italy. Emanuela and Federico have plans to pitch half a dozen more in their extensive grounds, this time with private plunge pools.

They will also pick you up from the airport and lend you their bikes. The price of €65 ($93) a night for two, including breakfast, could not be more reasonable.

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