Selected departures from May to September 2020
Nestled at the western edge of the snow-dusted Bavarian Alps in a forested valley is the picturesque town of Oberammergau. It bears the façade of a sleepy alpine community but comes alive once every ten years with countless visitors anticipating its unique passion play, a spectacle unlike any other. Since 1634, the play has been performed faithfully by the town’s residents in gratitude for the divine intervention that spared them from death during the plague. It’s a polished production today, but at the heart it remains a powerful act of worship symbolising an unwavering commitment to an ancestral vow.
Our tour combines this unmissable performance with the opportunity to experience the breathtaking landscapes of Bavaria in southeastern Germany and more. Our journey begins in the adjacent Austrian Tyrol, a spectacular alpine playground of rugged peaks, luxuriant pastures, glacial rivers and onion-domed chapels. After being settled by Bavarian tribes in the eighth century, the Tyrol was a medieval dukedom until a regional branch of the Habsburg house was established here. Innsbruck, the Tyrolean capital, is a sight to behold and an ideal introduction to the area with a splendid Habsburg palace presiding over a picture-postcard Old Town. To the north, the formidable peaks of the Karwendel Alps shelter a number of places so special they’ll be forever etched in your memory. One such haven is the enchanting lakeside village of Pertisau, which we visit by taking the historic Achensee railway.
Then we’re off to sophisticated Salzburg, which until 1816 was an independent city-state ruled by powerful prince-archbishops. For many, this is quintessential Austria boasting the best of the country’s Baroque architecture, subalpine scenery and a musical heritage dominated by the city’s most famous son, Mozart.
Heading west we cross the German border and pass through the Bavarian Alps, first to Oberammergau and then the municipality of Schwangau. Meaning ‘swan country’, Schwangau is home to these regal birds and the swan motif can be seen throughout the bewitching castles of Bavarian kings. We pause to visit perhaps the most fantastical of these castles, Neuschwanstein, on our journey along the German alpine Road. Continuing further west, we find ourselves on the shores of great Lake Constance and spend the day discovering its lovely gems. We explore the beautiful city of Konstanz near the Swiss border and the sub-tropical paradise island of Mainau, which seems to have drifted up from the Mediterranean with its colourful explosion of flora!
For a once-in-a-lifetime holiday that combines the poignancy of the Oberammergau passion play with the majesty of alpine landscapes, legendary castles and medieval towns across Austria and Germany, our riveting tour has it all.
Arrive at the airport for your flight to Munich or Innsbruck. On arrival, we transfer by coach to the four-star Hotel Grauer Bär in Innsbruck, where we stay for two nights with breakfast and dinner.
Stretching out beneath the tremendous Nordkette range is lovely Innsbruck, once the capital of an independent dukedom. Today, the city presents a charming showcase of Gothic and Baroque architecture, culminating in the superb Golden Roof, the symbol of the city built in the 15th century to symbolise the power of the first Duke’s court – we’ll see its copper shingles this morning on our walking tour of the city. Our insightful guide will draw attention to Innsbruck’s other marvellous monuments, such as the Baroque cathedral of St Jakob and the Hofkirche, a grand 16th-century church housing the cenotaph of Emperor Maximilian, surrounded by a remarkable collection of bronze Renaissance sculptures. Our tour includes entry to the spectacular imperial palace, known to locals as the Hofburg. One of Austria’s three major historic buildings, it has undergone an astounding transformation from Gothic to Renaissance to its current Baroque appearance. The palace is renowned for its lavish 18th-century apartments, which give a sense of the wealth of the Habsburgs. Apart from an outstanding collection of buildings, Innsbruck also boasts some of the finest views in Europe: across the swift-flowing River Inn to the tall, pastel-hued houses on the opposite bank, and the death-defying Bergisel ski jump, all encircled by the magnificent Alps.
A short drive this afternoon takes us to the market town of Jenbach, where we board the wonderful Achensee steam cog railway. Europe’s oldest cog railway remains almost exactly as it was when first built in 1889, complete with original locomotives! Huffing and puffing, it winds up the steep valley side at a leisurely Victorian pace to the village of Pertisau, beautifully cradled between Lake Achensee and the Karwendel Alps.
There’s time at leisure, so perhaps take a relaxing stroll along the edge of the lake and admire the jagged peaks reflected in its mirrorlike surface. Or refresh yourself with a drink at an alfresco café and enjoy the fresh mountain air. Later we return to Innsbruck.
Departing Innsbruck, we travel east to Salzburg, capital of the Salzkammergut – the Austrian Lake District – whose breathtaking beauty was brought to the world’s attention in The Sound of Music. Until two centuries ago it was an independent state ruled by a series of archbishops who turned Salzburg into one of the most cultured cities north of the Alps, evidenced by the elegant buildings and refined restaurants. Nestled below steep hills beside the River Salzach is the storybook Old Town, presenting a chocolate-box display of splendid architecture dating from the medieval period to the 18th century. It’s here in the historic core where our expert guide takes us on a tour to see the highlights. Gaze up at the Hohensalzburg, an imposing stone fortress perched high on a cliff, dominating the skyline and overlooking a maze of narrow streets lined by exquisite shops that make window-shopping so satisfying.
After our tour there’s time to explore on your own. Perhaps visit the Salzburg Museum for an absorbing journey through the city’s past and present, or stop by the former home of Salzburg’s most celebrated citizen, Mozart – it’s now a museum dedicated to the musical genius. Or soak up the atmosphere at a stylish café in the sumptuous Residenzplatz square and simply watch the world go by.
From Salzburg, we drive west across the German border through densely forested Bavaria to Oberammergau, where we stay for two nights with breakfast at a four-star hotel. Dinner is included at your hotel this evening. Exact details of the hotel will be advised closer to your departure date, as arrangements are handled by the Oberammergau passion play authorities.
For many, experiencing the passion play today will be a memorable and moving experience. The fascinating origins of this living tradition date back to 1632 during the Thirty Years’ War which brought the plague to Oberammergau. The villagers pledged to stage a play on the Passion of Christ if they were spared; legend has it that further spread was prevented and since then the play has been performed faithfully every decade. Today it’s a work of art that attracts more than half a million spectators from around the world.
Oberammergau itself is wonderfully charming, set in a beautiful location surrounded by pristine mountain landscapes. It’s renowned for its 500-year-old woodcarving heritage, well-represented in the many woodcarving shops, as well as its ‘Lüftlmalereien’ – vivid paintings of biblical scenes adorning the traditional houses.
After free time this morning to wander through town, we head to the open-air theatre, a stunning venue that seats more than 4,500 spectators. The passion play runs from 2:30pm to 10:30pm with a three-hour interval for dinner at 5pm. It depicts the period from when Jesus entered Jerusalem through to the crucifixion and resurrection. One of the most arresting aspects is the stirring 19th-century score by Rochus Dedler, brought to life by the passionate orchestra and choir. The commitment to detail and authenticity is impressive: the long hair and beards of the male performers are all real, grown in accordance with the ‘beard and hair edict’.
Dinner is included during the interval, giving you time to reflect on what you’ve witnessed before immersing yourself again in the experience. After the performance we return to our hotel.
This morning we bid farewell to Oberammergau and drive to one of Germany’s most iconic monuments, Neuschwanstein Castle, clinging dramatically to an alpine crag. Typifying our image of a classic storybook castle, it’s been the inspiration for so many stories and has fascinated children the world over. It was commissioned as a homage to classical composer Wagner by Ludwig II, the eccentric Bavarian king who modelled himself on Louis XIV of France. During our guided tour of the castle, you’ll experience this fairy tale come to life. The architecture inside is equally impressive, drawing from different styles – Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic, while sumptuous tapestries and elaborate frescoes decorate the wall.
We then journey along the famed Deutsche Alpenstrasse – the German Alpine Road – an exhilarating route that winds its way through stunning alpine Bavaria. Meandering between lofty mountains, we take in picture-postcard scenery: cascading waterfalls, lush forests, captivating castles and chocolate-box villages unchanged for centuries, surrounded by the snow-capped Alps in all their majesty.
We cross into Austria and the lakeside town of Bregenz, where we stay for two nights with breakfast and dinner at the three-star superior 4-Länder Hotel Deutschmann. Situated close to the centre of Bregenz, this family-run hotel offers comfortable rooms and a restaurant. Some dates will stay at the four-star Montfort das Hotel, also family-run and set in a quiet location with its own restaurant and bar.
Our journey today is centred on Lake Constance, Germany’s largest lake shared between Austria, Germany and Switzerland. We drive along the lake’s undulating northern shore in Germany, passing the city of Friedrichshafen where the mammoth Zeppelin airships were built. Soon we arrive in Meersburg, where we take a short ferry ride to the sub-tropical ‘flower island’ of Mainau. It’s delightful wandering through this gardener’s paradise, whose 111 acres of manicured landscapes boast an extraordinary diversity of trees, flowers and shrubs. Highlights include a rose garden with more than 25,000 bushes, a palm house and Germany’s biggest butterfly house. Surrounded by this stunning display of radiant colours is a 13th-century palace.
Next we visit the dramatically sited city of Konstanz, bisected by the Rhine and located close to the Swiss border. North of the river lies the university while to the south is the Old Town where you’ll find the administrative centre and shopping area. You’ll have free time to wander through the cobbled twisting alleys and admire the medieval half-timbered houses. Perhaps visit the outstanding cathedral that’s a fascinating mix of architectural styles. There’s a curious glass pyramid through which you can see the third-century remains of the Roman fort, Constantia, which gave the city its name.
After a wonderful day of sightseeing, we return to our hotel along the southern shore through Switzerland, taking in more awe-inspiring scenery.
Today you transfer to the airport for your return flight.
The price of this holiday is per person based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at the relvant supplement. The price includes return flights, airport departure taxes and transfers, six nights four-star and three-star superior accommodation with breakfast and five dinners in your hotel and one in a local restaurant in Oberammergau, all local taxes, and the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager.
Excursions included are aguided tour of Innsbruck, including a visit to Hofburg; Achensee cog railway from Jenbach to Pertisau; a guided tour of Salzburg; Oberammergau Passion Play category 2 ticket; a guided tour of Neuschwanstein Castle; ferry journey from Meersburg to Mainau ‘garden island’ and a visit to Konstanz.
Please note that twin beds in Austria are generally one base with two mattresses and individual bed linen.
The famous Oberammergau Passion Play, which tells the story of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, is widely regarded as the most important passion play in the world. The almost uninterrupted tradition of putting on the play has been carried throughout the years, with the play being performed once every 10 years since 1634.
In 2020 the town will see the 42nd production of the Passion Play and preparations and castings have already begun, where the local villagers of Oberammergau will arrange the show ready for the estimated 500,000 visitors to arrive from May through to October.
The unstoppable plague spread through Europe in 1633 and millions were affected, but the Black Death didn’t reach the small town of Oberammergau in Bavaria and reportedly not one resident was taken ill. The villagers vowed to perform the ‘Passion of the Christ’ every year for 10 years in thanks to God for His divine intervention in not burdening their village with the deadly disease.
The only years in which the play was not performed were in 1770 when the Ecclesiastical Council of the Elector banned all passion plays in Bavaria from taking place, and then again in 1940 when World War II happened.
Our helpful blog about the Oberammergau Passion Play 2020 can give you further details and advice, from tickets and seating to travelling and what to do in Oberammergau.
Preparations for Oberammergau Passion Play 2020 are already under way and given the success of previous performances, demand for tickets is certain to be high. This tour guarantees one category 2 ticket and an official programme in English. The play is performed in German.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport||First hotel location||Transfer time||Final hotel location||Departure airport||Transfer time|
|Munich Airport||Innsbruck||2 hrs||Bregenz||Munich Airport||2 hrs|
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.