Italy Explained For Members

Autogrill: Six essential things to know about Italy’s service stations

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Autogrill: Six essential things to know about Italy’s service stations
Italy's rest stops are praised by international visitors for the standard of facilities and quality of the food and drink - though Italians aren't always as impressed. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

More than just a rest stop, the autogrill is an Italian institution inseparably linked with the idea of driving in the country.


Italy is known the world over for the variety of its landscapes, but there’s one element that’s consistently the same when driving from north to south: the autogrill.

‘Autogrill’ is the name Italians use to refer to all motorway service stations, with the name stemming from the Milan-based Autogrill company, the biggest industry operator - other companies do exist.

READ ALSO: 'Expect the unexpected': What you need to know about driving in Italy

But you’d be wrong to think of autogrills merely as stazioni di servizio. They’re nothing short of a cultural institution in Italy and have been inextricably linked to the experience of driving in the country for over 60 years now. 

Service station meets grocery store meets restaurant

Depending on where you were born and raised, you may conceive of service stations as nothing more than roadside facilities allowing motorists to refuel their cars, go to the toilet and chomp on the odd packaged snack.

Italian autogrills are quite different. All have a bar serving hot beverages and fresh pastry as well as a separate counter offering a variety of sandwiches and panini.

Customers fancying a proper meal can also choose from a selection of primi and secondi (first or second courses) and eat at a sit-down restaurant. 

Italian autogrill

Italy's autogrills are far more than ordinary service stations. Photo by Marco Varisco on Flickr

But their most unique feature is the market area, where you’ll find anything from cured meats and dried sausages to cheeses and bread. Most also have a large selection of domestic wines, including some very fine bottles for the most refined palates. 


Hung jury over food quality

There are huge differences in opinion over the overall quality of autogrill grub, with those dismissing it as glorified junk food pitted against others impressed by its freshness and flavour. 

Generally speaking, visitors from countries like the UK and US often rave about the quality of autogrill fare, especially when it comes to their panini and pastries. 

But Italians often go ‘meh’ over it, with many thinking that autogrills’ reputation as suppliers of good-quality food is largely overblown. 

To add the umpteenth personal opinion to the dispute, the Italian writing this article thinks autogrill food is actually decent and often looked down on for no other reason than prejudice. 

That said, one thing most Italians, myself included, seem to agree on is that the coffee is pretty darn bad.

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian


Everything is overpriced 

While the food conflict rages on, public opinion has long reached a consensus here: pretty much anything that’s sold at an autogrill is overpriced, with most items being at least 20 to 30 percent more expensive than they are in regular shops. 

For instance, a 0.45-litre bottle of Coke generally costs around 3.50 euros at an autogrill, while prices are between 2.50 and 3 euros in other shops around the country.


What about the toilets?

Now onto the main reason many motorists make a pit stop at service stations in the first place.

You can never be quite sure of what you’re going to come across when using an autogrill toilet. You may be lucky and find yourself a squeaky clean cubicle, or you may not. Around Italy’s biggest holidays, you may also find long queues out of the restroom. 

READ ALSO: Five tips to help you survive a trip to an Italian pharmacy

For a quieter, perhaps cleaner option, The Local’s writers suggest using the toilets at the petrol station usually found next to the autogrill.

You’ll find some autogrills over the motorway you’re driving on

Some Italian autogrills are perched over motorway lanes in what’s generally called a struttura a ponte (‘bridge structure’). 

These branches have restaurants that look out directly on the road below, making for decent views at dawn and dusk.

Italian autogrill

An Italian autogrill arched over a motorway. Photo by Patrick Mueller on Wikimedia Commons

A place where memories are made 

It may be a down-to-the-wire mission to reach the toilets in time, or an oddly romantic dinner with their partner after a long holiday, but every Italian seems to have at least one story involving an autogrill.

Whether that be because of any inherent special quality or simply because they are the alpha and omega of all Italian road trips, Italian service stations are known ironically as places where unforgettable travel memories are made.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also