The Bavarian countryside is sprinkled with postcard-pretty towns and villages, but there's something extra-special about Oberammergau. Located in the foothills of the Ammergau Alps, about a 90-minute drive from Munich, this is one of Europe's most hallowed destinations thanks to its world-famous Passion Play. Staged every decade in the village since the early 17th century, it draws spectators from across the globe with its dramatic retelling of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The next play is in 2020 and you can savour it - along with Oberammergau's myriad other charms - on one of Collette's special Passion Play tours. These will be some of the highlights of your visit.
Five days a week from mid-May to early October 2020, the play will be performed in German (with a printed English translation for spectators) on the vast, open-air stage of the Passion Theatre, a purpose-built venue that could almost seat the entire village (Oberammergau's population is 5000). Almost half the residents, however, are involved in the play, whether they're acting, producing or part of the orchestra or choir. On the theatre's absorbing backstage tours - some of which are led by the actor who has played Jesus - you can browse bygone props and costumes and discover the play's fascinating origins. Ravaged by the traumas of war and the Bubonic Plague, the villagers pledged to do a Passion Play every ten years if God spared them any further deaths. He did, so they kept their promise.
The hunger for souvenirs from Passion Play pilgrims has helped keep alive one of Oberammergau's oldest crafts: wood carving. Browsing the family-run boutiques that dot the village, you'll find everything from hand-made wooden nativity scenes, crosses and Madonnas, to secular items like toys, cuckoo clocks and photo frames. You can spy masters at work at shop windows throughout the village, including Leonhard Holdrich's place, which is a stone's throw from the Passion Theatre. For more incredible woodwork, head inside the onion-domed parish church of St Peter and Paul (in whose cemetery the very first Passion Play was performed).
Blessed with a handful of wide streets and a tangle of narrow cobbled backalleys, Oberammergau's compact centre is a charming place for a stroll, especially with the slew of attractive buildings begging to be photographed. Most rise three and four storeys, flaunt wooden shutters, plant-potted balconies and dazzling frescoes. This type of artwork, known as Lüftlmalerei (air painting) in German, arrived in Oberammergau from Italy in the 18th century, and quickly spread across the village, covering homes, taverns and shops. While some sport vivid scenes from the Passion Play, others carry exuberant celebrations of Bavarian life, such as drinking, dancing and wood-carving, and Brothers Grimm fairytales like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood.
Although Oberammergau is a bastion of Bavarian tradition, it does have a modern, cosmopolitan side, with Italian, Chinese and Mexican eateries dotting the village. Yet it's the old-school taverns and restaurants specialising in the local food and drink that you should definitely make a beeline for. One recommendation is Hotel Alte Post. Opened in 1612, this fresco-daubed inn dishes up flavoursome Bavarian fare like goulash of venison and pork knuckle with red cabbage and potato dumplings. In sunny weather, the inn's front terrace is a great place to people-watch and sip a beer. One popular tipple is Ettal, which is brewed by monks at an abbey in a neighbouring village.
Walking and cycling is a joy on the tranquil, delightfully scenic outskirts of Oberammergau. A foot - and bike - trail skirts the River Ammer, which flows past the village, and you can glimpse gorgeous panoramas from several vantage points. Try the Crucifixion Monument, a hilltop marble statue donated by Bavarian King Ludwig II after the village performed a private Passion Play for him in 1871 (incidentally, one of Ludwig's opulent palaces, Linderhof, is an easy day trip from Oberammergau). For even more breathtaking vistas, take the vintage gondola that climbs Laber Mountain, a 1684m peak edging the village. When the weather's good at the top, you'll enjoy gawping at the Insta-worthy collection of lakes, valleys and mountains that surround Oberammergau, and you might even spot Munich in the distance.
For information on tickets and to book, visit your local Escape Travel store or call 1300 273 482.