For the first time in its nearly 800-year history, France’s Royaumont Abbey will host a New Year’s Eve celebration, its theme inspired by the Italian composer Rossini. The exquisitely preserved Cistercian monastery – built by Louis IX and his mother Blanche de Castille between 1228 and 1235 – lies just 30km north of Paris in Asnières-sur-Oise, but is light years away in atmosphere and setting: the white limestone building seems to float in the mist over a moat at the end of a gravel path lined by centuries-old chestnut trees.
The monastery was associated with the monarchy until the French Revolution, and has played host to intellectuals and artists since it was built. Industrialists and philanthropists Henry and Isabel Goüin acquired the building privately in 1905, and began to stage concerts and plays for the public from 1936. These proved so popular they inspired the Goüins to pioneer the French tradition of allowing historic monuments to be converted into artists’ residences, which is continued to this day through the Royaumont Foundation.
In keeping with this cultural spirit, La Saint-Sylvestre – or New Year’s Eve (€495 per person) – will kick off with cocktails in the Monks’ Refectory, often cited as the most beautiful gothic refectory in Europe, followed by a performance of Rossini’s Le Voyage à Reims by star soloist Elsa Dreisig and a choir of 10.
A seven-course dinner with wine and champagne will then be served, inspired by the epicurean composer’s favourite dishes from his Livre d’Adresse, an intimate document that includes his handwritten recipe for pintade aux marrons et purée truffée(roast guinea fowl with chestnuts and truffle mashed potatoes).
In the countdown to midnight a fireworks display will take place in the park and dessert will be served, before the DJ kickstarts the dancing. An evening to remember, this chic and original start to la nouvelle année trumps a chorus of Auld Lang Syne around the Christmas tree.