LAGUNA , 125km from Florianópolis and the closest Santa Catarina gets to having a near-complete colonial town, is an excellent place to break your journey. Sitting at the end of a narrow peninsula, at the entrance to the Lagoa Santo Antônio, Laguna feels like two distinct towns. Facing west onto the sheltered lagoon is the old port and Laguna's historic centre, protected as a national monument. Two kilometres away, on the far side of a granite outcrop of mountainous proportions that separates the city's two parts, is the new town, facing east onto the Atlantic Ocean.
As a beach resort, Laguna's attraction is limited. The city's importance lies in its old town , which, even during the height of the summer tourist season, attracts few people – which is just as well, as it's quite small and could easily be overwhelmed. The one time of year that Laguna gets unbearably crowded is during Carnaval, when it hosts one of the best small-town celebrations south of Rio.
Laguna was significant as early as 1494, being the southern point of the line dividing the Americas between Spain and Portugal (the northern point was at Belém), 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. A monument near the rodoviária, a few minutes' walk from the centre, marks the exact spot. A permanent settlement wasn't established until 1676, but it rapidly became the pre-eminent port of the southern fringes of the Portuguese Empire, and a base for the exploration and colonization of what is now Rio Grande do Sul.
Not all of Laguna's old town dates from the eighteenth century, but its general aspect is that of a Portuguese colonial town. The oldest streets are those extending off Praça Vidal Ramos , the square that holds the Igreja Santo Antônio dos Anjos . Built in 1694, the church retains its late eighteenth-century Baroque altars and, though rather modest, is considered the most important surviving colonial church in Santa Catarina.
On the same square as the church is the Casa de Anita (daily 8am–6pm), a small museum in a modest house built in 1711 and dedicated to Anita Garibaldi, the Brazilian wife of Giuseppe Garibaldi, maverick military leader of the Italian unification movement. Garibaldi was employed as a mercenary in the Guerra dos Farrapos, between republicans and monarchists, and it was in Laguna that a short-lived republic was declared in 1839. There are some fine photographs of nineteenth-century Laguna on display, but – oddly perhaps – there's little on Anita's life and republican activities; scissors and hairbrushes that once belonged to her are typical of the exhibits. In Praça República Juliana in the former town hall and jail, built in 1747, is the Museu Anita Garibaldi (daily 8am–6pm), housing a rather dreary collection of local Indian artefacts and items relating to the Guerra dos Farrapos. Close by, on Praça Lauro Muller, the Fonte da Carioca is the oldest surviving fountain in Laguna, dating back to 1863, covered in blue and white Portuguese tiles.