This majestic Cistercian abbey surrounded by verdant countryside, provides concerts and other cultural events with a fabulous venue.
Within easy reach of Paris the trip to Royaumont Abbey can include a pretty countryside walk and if you go on a Saturday in early autumn you can also listen to medieval music in a perfect setting.
Royaumont is the largest and best-preserved Cistercian abbey in the Ile de France, retaining most of its 13th-century appearance including the cloisters, and flanked by the dramatic ruins of its church, demolished during the Revolution. It is set in an elegant park surrounded by ornamental canals, and now functions as an international cultural center, with a particular emphasis on music. As its name implies, the Abbey had a royal founder, Louis IX, who ordered its construction in 1228. This king was also a saint, who insisted on waiting on the monks in the Refectory, an austerely beautiful room which is now used for concerts. I have seen a medieval passion play performed to music here, an unforgettable experience.
The best way to appreciate the harmony of the setting is to approach it on foot. There is a PR footpath from the sleepy little village of Seugy which is on the railway line from Paris, an unusual and satisfying way of reaching the Abbey. The tearoom at Royaumont overlooks a canal thick with water-lilies and no one tells you to keep off the grass. If you have come for a concert, you can take the free shuttle bus back to the station at Viarmes.
4.3 km walk from Seugy to Royaumont
From the station at Seugy turn right into the rue de la Gare. You can skirt the village to arrive at the roundabout leading to the footpath to Royaumont, but it is more fun to take a little footpath which goes via people’s back gardens to the church. Turn sharp left from the rue de la Gare and follow the path which emerges at the little church on your right. It is open on Sundays for Mass at 6:30pm.
Go past the church and the Mairie to the Rendez-Vous des Chasseurs, a tiny café-tabac which is the only shop in the village and therefore the center of what activity there is. You will be conspicuous if you step inside, but so would you be if you were French there aren’t many unfamiliar faces in Seugy. Savor the sensation of being in la France profonde only 45 minutes from Paris.
You are nearly at the end of the rue de la Fontaine, which leads straight to a little roundabout from where you take the rue de Giez. Don’t be tempted to turn left and follow the Chemin de Royaumont, as I did it’s shorter but cuts across fields with no signposts. From the rue de Giez, there are yellow PR signs along the route.
The road soon becomes a path which takes you past a caravan site and crosses the D922 via a little underpass, emerging alongside a wood. Continue past the riding school (Centre Equestre) and a little waterfall on the right. A gentle uphill stretch brings you to the edge of another wood, with a view of rolling countryside below. The path skirts the wood on your right and leads directly to the Abbey grounds.
The approach to the Abbey is particularly impressive, surrounded by parkland with a tree-lined canal in which the arched windows are reflected. The last time I visited, a rehearsal for Stravinsky’s opera, The Rake’s Progress, was taking place outside, around a piano perched on the grass. It was watched by a knot of enchanted bystanders, unable to tear themselves away. Overlooking a smaller canal to the left of the Abbey is the discreetly welcoming sight of tables and sunshades, the inspired location of the tearoom. The Refectory, to the left of the cloisters, is reached via the main entrance in the middle of the building.
|Distance from Paris:
||35km (22 miles)
||Gard du Nord
||45 mins or less
|Length of visit:
||Half or full day
|Alternative return from:
|Carte Orange Zone:
Distance from Seugy
|4.3km (2 and a half miles)
SNCF trains from Gare du Nord (Banlieue) to Luzarches stop at Viarmes and Seugy once or twice an hour on weekdays, once an hour at weekends and make the return journey every hour up to approximately 11:30pm.
Pick up a timetable for trains back to Paris at the Gare du Nord, as there is no ticket office at Seugy or Viarmes.
Royaumont is slightly nearer to Viarmes than to Seugy, but the shuttle bus from Viarmes to the Abbey only connects with certain trains on concert days. (See concert program for times.) The 3km walk from Viarmes to Royaumont along the D909 is to be avoided.
The navette (shuttle bus) leaves the car-park at Royaumont for Viarmes station after each concert, making several trips if necessary. Keep your concert ticket to show to the driver and be prepared to prevent middle-class Parisians from elbowing you aside when the bus appears.
Car: Autoroute A1 (Lille) from Porte de la Chapelle, exit 3 for N1 (Beauvais), then follow signs for Royaumont.
When to go
The concert season for 2003 is from August 23 to October 11, although you can visit the Abbey at any time of the year.
Fondation Royaumont, 95270 Asnières sur Oise, tel 01 30 35 59 70, www.royaumont.com.
Open from 10 am to 6 pm in summer and to 5:30pm in winter all year round. Guided visits at weekends and on public holidays. Admission to the Abbey and grounds 5E, 3.50E for children under 18 or students under 26, free to children under 6.
Concert program and reservations: 01 34 68 05 50. Open 2-6pm Monday to Friday. You can ask for the brochure to be sent to you or make a credit card booking by phone or Internet. The brochure will arrive at a Paris address the following day and includes the timetable for the navette, enabling you to book your seat when you buy your ticket. Ticket prices not yet available, but are around 19.10E, 14.50E students, and include entrance to the Abbey and grounds.
Bar/tearoom at Royaumont, open noon to 6pm at weekends and public holidays.
Au Rendez-Vous des Chasseurs, rue de la Fontaine, Seugy. Closed on Tuesday.
Auberge de la Gare, 2 pl de la Gare, Viarmes, tel 01 30 35 48 79. Opening hours variable but always looks closed. Turn the doorknob. Specializes in couscous and does generous merguez sandwiches to take away.
Copyright Annabel Simms 2003, text adapted from her book "An Hour From Paris" (Pallas Athene 2003), available from http://www.pallasathene.co.uk as well as at WH Smith, Brentano's, The Red Wheelbarrow and other Paris bookshops. Can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org