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The Autogrill Rest Stop on the Autostrada
You will find rest areas every 30 to 50 kilometers along the Autostrada. The rest areas are marked in your Touring Club Italiano (TCI) road atlas (special Autostrada maps at the back show the rest areas). There are a few different "brands" of rest area, but our favorite is the Autogrill. They have restrooms, good coffee, newspapers, great maps, sometimes a sit-down restaurant.
We have parked at countless Autogrills, and our luggage loaded car has always been left alone. But, I have heard from other travelers who have been broken into at an Autogrill. We always keep our valuable things (computer, camera, etc.) in a carryon bag that we take in with us.
The Autogrill Caffe
Most Autogrill stops are designed with the same layout. You enter into the caffe, restrooms are nearby (see section below for more details), the store is past the caffe. If there is a restaurant, it will be accessible from the caffe. To leave the Autogrill, you must walk through their store.
At the caffe you first go to the cashier to pay, so you need to know what you want to have. For breakfast there are fresh pastries and croissants; ask for a brioche or a cornetto (cornetti in the plural). They have good sandwiches. Go look at what's available at the counter - the sandwiches all have names. Then go to the cashier and tell him/her what you want, pay and take the receipt to the service counter to get your food/beverages.
The sandwich counter with a variety of choice (very few for vegetarians)
There is usually a somewhat disorderly scramble at the counter. Just wait until you get a spot at the counter and put down your receipt. It is good form to put the receipt on the counter and weigh it down with a small coin (this is the tip for the counterman). They pick up the receipt and you tell them what you want. The receipt is for generic items, like a sandwich; you must say what type you want.
The Autogrill caffe with oranges for fresh juice and the espresso machine
The Autogrill Restaurant
Many Autogrills have a restaurant either off from the caffe or upstairs. The one near Montepulciano has the restaurant directly above the Autostrada! These are caffteria style restaurants with good food. They cook fresh food - fresh pasta, grilled meats, salads, deserts, etc. Enter the restaurant and check out the different areas. You will see stations set up that follow the typical Italian menu - a cold buffet for your antipasto, a place where you order hot pasta for a primo, a place for vegetables and a secondo, a dessert area. Take a tray and take what you want from the self serve areas. If you want something cooked, go to the appropriate station. There will be a menu posted. Tell the person behind the counter what you want. It may take a few minutes if they have to cook it there. You pay at the end of the line at the cashier.
Note: There is a full menu posted at the entrance to the restaurant. Not all items on that menu are available every day.
The Autogrill is reasonably priced and the food is pretty good for a rest stop on a highway!! During the high season summer months the Autogrills can be painfully full of travelers, including bus loads of tourists. You may want to stop early for lunch. Not every stop has a restaurant; they are marked along the highway with signs - fork and knife for a restaurant, coffee cup for a bar.
Shopping at the Autogrill
The larger Autogrill rest areas have stores that you must walk through before you can leave. You will be able to buy all kinds of specialty foods (cheeses, meats, snack foods) and beverages, (wine, beer and stronger stuff). They'll have travel supplies from drug store items to electronics. You can even buy some music tapes for the car.
"Resting" at the Autogrill
You will see signs for the restrooms (toilette) when you enter the Autogrill. Usually they are downstairs. There might be an attendant with a table and an obvious basket for tips outside the restrooms. It is custom to put a coin into the basket as you leave the restroom. The restrooms at the Autogrills are modern and usually very clean, although frequently the toilet seat is missing and you have to sit yourself down on cold porcelain. Many of them have this strange graphic on the wall behind the toilet to tell you that it flushes automatically. There is always toilet paper, but carry those small packets of Kleenex with you when traveling anywhere, just in case.
Slow Travel Photos - Italy - Instructions - Driving: More photos
www.slowtrav.com/italy/caffes/menu.htm: Slow Travel, The Caffe Menu, what you can order in an Italian caffe.
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