Seated at a small table shaded by a large yellow umbrella, I sip my beer and savor the mid-afternoon sun of early autumn and the gentle but steady sea breeze. I’m surrounded by possibly the most beautiful collection of people that I’ve seen anywhere in my travels. Fit, confident, and stylishly attired, they hustle past to the last meeting of the week or grab one of the remaining available tables. I could be in Florence. Or Milan, perhaps.
But then, those Italian cities don’t have beaches like the ones you’ll find here…some of the best anywhere in Brazil. Welcome to Florianopolis, capital of the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.
Home to 420,000 people, Florianopolis is often referred to by its residents as “the other Brazil.” For one thing, there is the evident prosperity, from brand-name jeans to the latest-model cars. The streets and sidewalks are clean. Unemployment is low, as is the crime rate.
There are parks and pedestrian plazas. And the city is large enough to offer most services that you might need, without the problems of a bigger metropolis.
The locals are helpful and polite, and largely of northern Italian extraction, but with a grace and confidence even Milanos would be pressed to match. Catarinenses have a reputation within Brazil for beauty and style—high praise, indeed.
A youthful energy permeates the city, due in part to the many universities here. Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., the sidewalks and plazas flood with young people, some hurrying to evening classes, others securing a table at a local chopperia (beer house).
All in all, “Floripa,” as locals affectionately call the city, has a unique personality. It combines the chic of Rio, the charm of Old Europe, and a touch of bohemian energy all her own.
Yet until about 15 years ago, few outside the region visited here. Then, thanks to some strategic marketing by a former mayor, harried residents of São Paulo and Porto Alegre began coming to relax. Many visitors chose to move here, drawn by the lifestyle and the burgeoning economy.
Slowly but surely the secret is getting out… Floripa’s great attraction is its beaches. The city sits partly on the mainland but mostly on an island, Ilha de Santa Catarina. The island is roughly wedge-shaped, a bit wider at the north and tapering to the south. The city center and the fashionable Beira Mar district lie midway down on the west (inland) side. Ringing the island are dozens of beaches, each with its own personality.
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