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If your travels take you through Brussels Airport in the near future, and specifically the Pier A Schengen departures zone, then make sure you seek out what we think are two of the best new innovations anywhere in the world of airport retail and F&B. In fact, you won’t need to seek them out, because they are unmissable.
First, as you arrive up the escalator into the new commercial zone, unveiled in full on Thursday, you’ll see before you the breathtaking Epicure concept from Belgian Sky Shops (above). This is 200sq m of serious high-grade retailing, built around a rare and exclusive wine offer. The store is designed as a cellar, but it has been given a modern twist – in particular by the elliptical glass-framed room in its heart, which houses what is arguably the travel retail world’s greatest selection of high-end, high-value wines.
There’s a Petrus 1978, Rothschild 1985 and 1990 and d’Yquem 1986, 1998 and 1999, a rarely seen magnum of Calon-Segur and much more besides. And these aren’t just there to lend appeal to the rest of the offer – the retailer says it refuses to include a bad year’s vintage in its selection, though it would be likely to sell plenty more volume if it did.
The special wine ‘pod’ is mirrored by one that houses cigars – unusually, the very top-end Cubans are available in single sticks for buyers who just want one or two for that evening, or to try something new. With this outlet, Belgian Sky Shops has really tapped into consumers’ desire for choice and personal service – and it plans to go one step further.
It already has a seating area with a screen showing films about the rare malts it stocks – next it plans to launch a website dedicated to this single store and the exclusive offers it houses.
The story of Epicure is also the story of a personal dream. Sky Shops’ Commercial Director Marc Leemans first had the idea 20 years ago, before he even joined the company. He says: “I wanted to create a very special store for my wife, something that would house rare, exclusive items. So when this opportunity came, I dug out all of the early draft drawings I had at home and that was our starting point. It shows you that dreams can come true.”
Next door to Epicure, there’s another story of imagination becoming reality in the terrific wine and tapas bar from Autogrill named Beaudevin, which ties in neatly with the exclusive, high-end touch of Epicure. Beaudevin is divided into three zones: three areas: a bar, a social area to meet and relax, plus a more discreet private area. Everywhere you look there are superb design touches – typified by the chandeliers that on closer inspection are made from hundreds of wine glasses.
For this correspondent the highlight was the glass-fronted tasting bar, which houses 20 different wines each month chosen by wine writer Fiona Morrisson. Here, you can taste some of the world’s great wines by the glass, at a fraction of the price you’d pay for a bottle at retail. The technology is superb too: you can serve yourself and pay via a top-up card that you can use anytime you visit the outlet, a smart move given the huge number of frequent flyers through Brussels.
As the store developers Creneau said: “Wine is pleasure, health, tradition and passion.” With Beaudevin and Epicure, Autogrill and Sky Shops have brought those values dramatically to life at Brussels Airport this month.