Most travellers planning a trip to Venice picture staying in a romantic hotel on the Grand Canal or a cosy B&B in an ancient palazzo. But a caravan, tent or mobile home? Not so much. The reality, though, is that, during the summer, thousands of holidaymakers come in by boat from campsites on a narrow 15km stretch of coast that separates Venice’s lagoon from the Adriatic. And now, with the opening of Italy’s first Airstream park here, just half an hour by ferry from central Venice, the appeal of camping has just shot up a notch or two.
On this peninsula, called Cavallino, 30-odd campsites attract six million visitors every year, making it the second most popular seaside resort in Italy. Camping arrived here in the late 1950s, offering the perfect mix of inexpensive accommodation, cheap and cheerful pizzerie and trattorie, fabulous beaches, trips to the nearby islands of Burano, Torcello and Murano and – the icing on the cake – a ferry that docks right by Piazza San Marco. Little has changed today. That was until Nicoletta Vianello, third-generation owner of Camping Ca’Savio, decided to offer a completely different kind of accommodation by ordering five gleaming metal Airstreams last summer.
I would never describe myself as a happy camper, but have always been enthralled by this ultimate icon of 1930s Americana, the aluminium tube nicknamed the “silver bullet”. So I went to check it out for a couple of nights. Camping Ca’Savio can host up to 5,000 visitors, but because the site is vast and most people were out sightseeing in Venice, the place actually seemed fairly quiet. We passed tents and bungalows under shady pine trees as Nicoletta led me to a secluded corner reserved for the Airstreams, lined up along a dune across which waves were crashing down on the beach.
Many such trailer parks specialise in vintage Airstreams, but Nicoletta was seduced by a sleek new model, an exact replica of the emblematic original design, but with state-of-the-art interiors. I once spent a pleasant couple of nights in a 1950s Airstream, but nothing prepared me for all the luxury mod cons here: air conditioning, fridge and freezer, cooker and oven, shower and toilet, plus a very comfortable bed.
The sofa in the salon can pull out as a second bed, but to attract families, each Airstream also has a small bell tent, big enough for two kids to have their own adventure. The Airstream’s kitchen has tea, coffee and ingredients for basic cooking, and there are butchers and an excellent fish shop just down the road in Ca’Savio village. But I took the easy option of staying put in the camp, walking across to the pizzeria for a takeaway quattro stagioni, picking up a litre of chilled white wine for €2.95 at the campsite shop, and dining under the stars at the Airstream’s wooden deck.
During the day, there is much more to do in Cavallino than I expected. The unspoilt beach stretches as far as the eye can see, with no ugly hotels to ruin the view. The campsite organises bike tours through the lagoon wetlands, and I discovered a couple of brilliant places to eat: Agriturismo al Tiepolo, a waterside restaurant that grows most of its own vegetables, and Osteria dal Pupi where Signora Lucia serves tasty seafood such as oven-baked sardines with pistachio and spaghetti with tiny lagoon crabs.
It was quite a disappointment to abandon my comfy Airstream and return to Venice, but Nicoletta has a last surprise for her guests; a packet of sapori del Veneto, seeds of local vegetables to plant back home.
• Airstream from €125 a night, Camping Ca’Savio (Via di Ca’Savio 77, +39 041 966017, casavio.com) is closed in the winter but reopens on 23 April and is now taking bookings
Happy Days Retro Vacations, Suffolk, UK
A campsite in the Suffolk countryside inland from Aldeburgh. It has five vintage Airstreams, with names like Betsy and Dee Dee.
• Two nights from £140, happydaysrv.co.uk
Vintage Vacations, Isle of Wight, UK
Helen and Frazer Cunningham opened their site back in 2004 with a single 1956 Tradewind Airstream. Today there are 13 vintage Airstreams.
• From £145 a night B&B, vintagevacations.co.uk
Camp Silver, Texel island, Netherlands
A 20-minute ferry ride from the Dutch mainland takes you to the wild island of Texel, where eight modern, luxury airstreams await you.
• From €105 a night, three nights for two people from €390 meals included, campsilver.nl
Camping De Lakens, nr Haarlem, Netherlands
Nestling in sand dunes 200 metres from the sea, De Lakens offers five comfortable contemporary Airstreams.
• Three nights minimum €300, campingdelakens.com
Brussels glamping, Belgium
Parked in the courtyard of the hip Brussels Vintage Hotel, a 1959 Airsteam has been luxuriously restored.
• Two people from €175 B&B, vintagehotel.be
Belrepayre Airstream Retro Trailer Park, nr Carcassonne, France
This is a kitsch trailer park in the foothills of the Pyrenees, with 10 vintage Airstreams.
• Two people from €124 B&B a night, Manse, Mirepoix, Ariege +33 60 788 7679, airstreameurope.com
Airstream Vintage Vacations, Dordogne, France
In the heart of rural Périgord, three ancient models sit around a big pool in a secluded garden.
• Two people from €90 a night, airstream-vintage-vacations.fr
Breizdream, nr Saint-Brieuc, France
This is an Airstream for rent in the garden of a traditional stone Brittany cottage. The forest d’Avaugour and beaches are nearby.
• Two people from €80 B&B a night, breizhdream.fr
Gite Airstream, nr Honfleur, Normandy, France
Guests at Celia Turgis-Douguet’s gite in the Normandy countryside can also rent a 1969 Airstream.
• Two people from €60 a night, breakfast from €10, gitesinsolitesnormandie.com
Glamping Airstream, Andalucía, Spain
Set in Andalucía’s Sierra de las Nieves mountains, Trevor Searby offers a modern luxury Airstream caravan with private plunge pool.
• One night from €105 (€695 weekly), glampingairstream.com