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Meet up with Ghent's finest


The wonderful Paard Van Troje bookstore in Ghent is closed on Monday mornings, but not for Luster: owner and local book-God Bart not only offered us a table, but also good coffee, fresh croissants, fruit and the most delicious soup ever, so we could have a meeting with Ghent’s finest.
Our goal: to find out which are the 500 must-visit places in Ghent, and to discover Ghent’s best kept secrets.
Why? Because the British-turned-Belgian Derek Blyth is writing a new, original city guide about Ghent, that will be published by Luster in April 2014. It will be the third city-guide in de widely loved series ‘The 500 Hidden Secrets’, after the ones about Brussels (2012) and Antwerp (2013). And because one man – even when it’s Derek – can’t know as much places and secrets as eight people, we decided to ask the help of seven born-and/or-bred Gantois.

Who are they, what do they do in life, and what has stuck about them after spending half a day together?
Here goes:   Nathalie Dumon is destination marketing strategist and conversation manager for the Ghent Tourist Office (Visitgent.be), and knows all the possible hiding places of the stolen ‘Just Judges’ painting. Melanie Devrieze works as a freelance journalist. In 2013 she took 365 photos of 365 front doors. She lives in Ghent and frowns a little when she hears too much Antwerp dialect in her hometown. Koen Phlips is an entrepreneur. Coffee makes him nervous and vegetarian restaurants make him happy, as long as they come without the atmosphere of a cafeteria. He would rather keep the most hidden secrets of Ghent to himself, but for Luster he’s willing to make an exception. Gudrun Rombaut works as a content curator and author for Gentblogt.be. She knows everything about hats and secret gardens. Fredo De Smet is the founder of the creative agency Avenuel, and manager of all things digital there. He also is the curator of Gent M, a platform for digital creatives in Ghent. He loves to hate grumpy restaurant owners. Amaury Van Kerckhove works in social PR, she is a big fan of la Fille d’O and of everything beautiful created in Ghent. Bart Van Aken is the owner and the soul of bookshop Paard Van Troje. He knows everything there is to know about books, making soup and great Indian restaurants in Ghent that are hidden behind a pizza sign.  
These people all have a few things in common: they live, eat and drink in Ghent, they have a lot of friends who do the same and they love their city. And last but certainly not least: they have strong opinions on almost everything. For example on which fries are the best and whether you should or shouldn’t order them with saté sauce on top, on the importance of a delicious and fresh bread roll, on whether some place is hot or not, on how much sun you need to enjoy sitting on a terrace, on which hour of the day is best for eating pita, on which temporary street art projects should have stayed in Ghent (an installation that blurred out a Tarzan-yell that could be heard in several neighbouring streets) and on which secluded gardens should never be entered by more than three people at a time.  

Our morning with them was everything we hoped for and expected, but louder. And with more passion. Every Gantois who joined at our table not only turned out to be very generous in sharing tips and favourite places but also to, for the time being, have linked his or her personal wellbeing with our ‘500 Hidden Secrets of Ghent’ project. Some addresses that we suggested were swiped of the table unanimously (“totally not cool anymore”), others were defended with fervour (“this HAS to be in the book”) and again others lead to a lively discussion (“this restaurant is very romantic – only because it’s so small you have to sit on each other’s lap”). Iphones were used to turn vague ideas or memories (“that small gift shop with lots of red and white”) into real places and there were even suggestions to create a few entirely new lists – for example, it turns out there are so much good pita bars and places for late night snacks that an extra category in the restaurant session was necessary. Too bad that there are practical reasons why we probably won’t be able to include every suggestion in the book. (Even though it does sound like a fun idea to make a list of the 5 most grumpy restaurant owners in Ghent – apparently their food is so delicious that they don’t need to be extra nice to sell it, customers just keep coming.)

In short: the tips, comments and information that the seven locals from Ghent shared with us are perfect material to help Derek to obtain his goal, which is to write the best, most-up-to-date, out-of-the-box and above all the most inspiring city guide about Gent. That’s why we want to sincerely thank Natalie, Koen, Gudrun, Amaury, Fredo, Melanie and Bart a lot for their time and help. We hope to see you again soon, to celebrate the launch of ‘The 500 Hidden Secrets of Ghent’!  

Have you become curious about what places and information will be included in the ‘The 500 Secrets of Ghent’? Then keep track of our updates or sign up for our news letter, and we’ll keep you posted about the exact date of the book release, in april 2014.
By then, the book will be available online and in stores for 14,95 euros.