Silent Night is arguably one of the world’s best-loved Christmas carols and its words were written in 1816 by a priest called Josef Mohr, who lived locally to Salzburg in the rural village of Oberndorf. Its sentimental but catchy tune was composed two years later by Franz Xaver Gruber and the carol was performed for the first time on Christmas Eve 1818 in the village’s St Nicholas Church. This church destroyed by heavy flooding at the end of the 19th century, only to be replaced by the white-washed, many-sided neo-Baroque Silent Night Chapel in 1937. Since then a whole local industry has grown up around the carol, which has been translated into more than 300 languages, and life in Oberndorf has changed forever.
Although a visit to this idyllic little village is a joy any time, and it has a small museum where there are copies of the original manuscript and score, Oberndorf really comes into its own at Christmas. A traditional market takes over its main square and hundreds of visitors from across the world come to hear Silent Night being sung at Midnight Mass in the chapel on Christmas Eve.
Oberndorf is a 20-km (12.5-mile) drive from Salzburg along the A1 and B156. In summer cyclists can follow the Tauern bike path along the River Salzach directly to Oberndorf.