Posted by: viewfromtheriva | July 27, 2013

Discovering Sinj’s hidden beauty–a villa, a prison and more!

The gorgeous exterior of the 18thC villa tucked away in the backstreets of Sinj's old town

The gorgeous exterior of an 18thC villa tucked away in the backstreets of Sinj’s old town

My wife and I have always enjoyed Sinj, 30km inland from Split, a historic town famous for its annual Alka “knight’s tournament” which has been held every year for almost 300 years to celebrate the miraculous victory by the town’s heroic militia over battle-hardened Turks who outnumbered them 10 to 1.

I met the town’s new tourist director, Jelena Bilic a few weeks ago in Split. She is one of the growing new breed of tourist directors here (like Jasmina Garbin, who is making her mark on the island of Solta)–young, energetic and passionate.

And what’s not be passionate about–with stunning museum and monastery collections of Roman era sculptures, coins, jewelry and more;  the fabulous Alka; canoeing on the Cetina, skydiving (Sinj has its own small airport) and a charming old town. Sinj is one of those bucolic inland towns that has way more than meets the eye.

We find ourselves actually driving the 30km to have COFFEE in the Sinj town square about once a month!  Most folks here in Split would consider that bizarre because coffee on the Riva is an essential way of life here.

But there is something about that town square that appeals to us, surrounded by wonderful streets and architecture and all that green….and excellent pastry, bread and coffee!

Today, after coffee, I stopped to look through an open passageway at a facade of what appeared to be quite a remarkable villa.

you never know what is behind a closed wooden door!

you never know what is behind a closed wooden door!

As I walked up to take a photo I heard someone call my name…it was Jelena!  So together with my wife and her daughter, we found the owner and he welcomed us into the courtyard.

Wow, you never know what is behind a closed wooden door…..instead of the faded elegance of the facade of the villa, which was obviously not lived in, here was a paradise of beautifully planted perennials and a meticulously planned crushed stone path meandering deep into the rear of the property filled with all sorts of marvelous outbuildings and structures.

The villa was first built more than 300 years ago by a Polish nobleman. The current owner’s family purchased it  40 years ago and it’s slowly being fixed up. The property is really quite remarkable—elegant and private, a preserve of rare proportions in the middle of a small city that no one would ever notice.

The owner, a local pharmacist, was eager to share the villa’s rich  history. On the premises was not only a pharmacy and botanical laboratory for growing and creating medicines (with a treasure trove of 100 year bottles!) but the town’s prison!

Accidentally bombed in WW2, four of the five cells are gone, but the remaining one is being restored into a kitchen.

your very own prison

your very own prison

But it was still those lush grounds and wonderful villa that captivated us.  The villa itself was created from four different buildings, whose outlines could still be clearly seen, into one handsome edifice.

the garden extended at least 100 meters to the rear of the property

the high walled garden extended at least 100 meters to the rear of the property

At the very back of the garden, there was another building and a large area for growing vegetables that looked like it was all ready for a new crop.

To the right we saw a really odd structure….maybe it was a decorative “house” for the well?  An ornate stone play area for the children of the wealthy Polish merchant?

We were speechless when the owner took us closer and said, “it’s a chicken house!”

the chicken "villa" for very pampered birds!

a chicken “villa” for very pampered birds!

“Look,,” he said,, reaching his hand inside one of the horizontal openings that were on both sides of the main door, “you put your hand in here and take out the eggs.”

Sure enough, we stuck our head inside and there was a perfect planter size structure mounted inside the chicken villa where the chickens could come and lay their eggs so the owner could just reach in from the outside and presto, breakfast!

What a marvelous way to spend an afternoon, discovering such hidden beauty in a town we have come to enjoy immensely.

If you have not seen Jelena;s great new English language Town of Sinj Tourist Guide, be sure to get one.  Just e mail her at

And then you’ll have a lot of reasons to come here and see what you have been missing—like a full head of Heracles from the late 1st or early 2nd C, a terrific 172cm statue of the goddess Diana from the 3rd C and culinary delights like grilled frogs and arambasici (meat stuffed pickled cabbage rolls)!

Enjoy our new Croatian vacation portal



  1. Great stuff, thank you. Sinj is located in an incredibly beautiful part of Dalmatia and is often overlooked as its not on the coast. Have you been to Trilj? It’s not too far and is quite charming.

    I see that you’ve gone up to Vrlika which isn’t far away. Did you manage to stop in the village of Cetina to see the remains of the 9th century church Sveti Spas and the pool which forms the source of the Cetina River?

    • Thanks for your comment, didn’t have time to go to see the church and the Cetina headwaters, that’s another trip. These towns are really special and we would actually think of living here, but I have to be able to see the ocean…at least in the distance, so it looks like the coast for me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: