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Those of us who like to watch bikini–clad Brazilians frolicking on the beach—admittedly, a tiny minority of us—know better than to fight the crowds in Rio or Búzios. (Punta del Este, Uruguay's seaside resort for the South American glitterati has been over for, like, four years.) Instead, we're following the pro surfers and fashion photographers to Florianópolis, a dreamy, 300–square–mile island off of Brazil's southern coast that's best known for its delightful mash–up of immigrant influences (namely Italian and German). "Floripa" is full of natural wonders in the form of lakes, forests, and 42 stellar beaches—and the city itself is modern, clean and safe. All well and good, but visitors tend to relish the seemingly endless supply of runway–ready women and men that leap out of the surrounding areas and into the pages of Vogue. That's why all the major modeling agencies have set up shop here. Besides Gisele Bündchen (who was born in the neighboring state of Rio Grande do Sul), you're apt to run into Mariana Weickert, Alessandra Ambrósio, Ana Beatriz Barros, or Rafael Verga (you know, that hunk from those 2(x)ist underwear ads), sipping Brahma beer at one of the open–air surfside spots alongside incomparable Praia Mole. You might ask which came first—the models or the surfers—as board–toting types are everywhere, and the waves ain't half bad: The ASP World Championship Tour stops here every October—it's where Andy Irons, the top surfer in the world, clinched his title last year—and Kelly Slater has been spotted squiring Gisele around the trendy Lagoa da Conceição area. Forget huge hotels or fake–tan resorts: Floripa retains its authentic flip–flop feel. So do as the visiting Brazilians do: rent a small villa or house near Lagoa.
Also, check out "Beauty and the Beach," a feature on South American beaches from the May 2005 issue of Condé Nast Traveler.