Nestling at the foot of the Ammergauer Alpen between the distinctive peaks of Kofel (1342m) and Laber (1684m), the highly photogenic village of OBERAMMERGAU has achieved international fame thanks to the Passion Play, which depicts the life of Jesus and is performed by local people every ten years in a purpose-built theatre; the next play is to be performed in 2010 (Web: www.passionsspiele2010.de ). It has its origins in a promise by the villagers in the seventeenth century to perform a play if God would spare them the effects of the plague, which was then ravaging the region. You can visit the Passionstheater where the play is staged on a guided tour (mid-March to end Oct; English-language tours Tues– Sun at 11am & 2.30pm; 4); in addition to seeing the impressive open-air stage, you'll get to see costumes and props from the last time the play was performed.
For the other nine years in each decade Oberammergau is busy with visitors who come to see its elaborately frescoed houses and to buy the woodcarvings in which its craftsmen specialize. The artform of Lüftmalerei or trompe l'oeil facade-painting reaches a particularly refined level here, demonstrated most convincingly on the facade of the Pilatushaus (mid-May to mid-Oct Tues– Sat 1–6pm; Dec 26–30, Jan 2–6 & Easter 11am–5pm; free) at Ludwig-Thoma-Strasse 10, which was built between 1774 and 1775 and painted by Franz Seraph Zwinck. His work here is considered one of the masterpieces of South German Lüftmalerei. Diagonally opposite at Dorfstrasse 8 is the Oberammergau Museum (Tues– Sun 10am–5pm; 4), where you can see more specimens of local woodcarving up close.
Once you've drunk in the twee prettiness of the painted houses, the obvious thing to do is to don walking boots and ascend the Kolben Sesselbahn (daily 9am–4.45pm; single 5.50, return 7.50), a chairlift that ascends to 1276m immediately west of Oberammergau and gives access to the Königssteig hiking trail which heads east below the ridge for roughly 5km towards the Kofel before descending to the valley south of Oberammergau, though there's also an easier path that descends to the valley from the Kolbensattelhütte at the top of the chairlift. In winter, the downhill route becomes a long blue (easy) ski run. On the eastern side of Oberammergau, the Laber Bergbahn (daily: winter 9am–4.30pm; summer 9am–5pm; July & Aug until 5.30pm; single 8, return 12.50) ascends the 1684m Laber, from the summit of which a rugged trail descends rapidly to the eastern edge of Oberammergau (about 7km); a somewhat easier but longer route meanders down via a small lake, Soilesee (about 11km). In winter, a black (difficult) ski run takes the short route back down to Oberammergau (day-pass 21).
Direct buses link Garmisch-Partenkirchen with Oberammergau in around forty minutes; if you're coming by train, you have to change at Oberau, and if by train from Munich, at Murnau. For accommodation try the charmingly traditional Hotel Alte Post at Dorfstrasse 19 (Tel:08822/91 00, Web: www.altepost.com ; Price: 61–100), or the extremely plush Hotel Maximilian, Ettaler Strasse 5 (Tel:08822/94 87 40, Web: www.maximilian-oberammergau.de ; Price: 151-200). Oberammergau's youth hostel is at Malensteinweg 10 (Tel:08822/41 14, Web: www.oberammergau.jugendherberge.de ; 17.70) on the southwestern edge of the village, beneath the Kofel. Note that from January to October and again over the Christmas and New Year period, you'll pay a small Kurbeitrag or tourist tax on the price of your room. Both the Alte Post and Maximilian have restaurants – the St Benoît at the latter is quite a gourmet temple; for something simpler, try the Theater Café at Othmar-Weis-Strasse 3 close to the Passionstheater, which is open for breakfast.