I was only 19 when I first went to Barcelona. And I didn’t come as tourist. I arrived with just one suitcase and €270 cash in my pocket, ready to pay for my room in an apartment I would share with 4 other people from 4 different nations. That room was in a part of Barcelona called El Raval, making up one side of the infamous La Rambla, the Barrio Gotico’s uglier Brother. Raval had charm but it was the rugged kind, no comparison with the palm-tree lined plaças and the bright cobbled streets of the Gotico. Raval was more residential, tourists here were the exception and not the rule, and somehow it always seemed like less sun hit the streets of Raval.

But that was 2001. Last week, 17 years later, I went to stay in El Raval again, following an invitation by The Barcelo Raval, an energetic and modern city hotel attracting socialites and party-goers from around the world. Located in the beating heart of neighborhood on the Rambla Raval The Barcelo fits right in with its edgy, dark grey cylinder shape, unsuspecting yet so full of colors, life and charisma. Guests are greeted with a complimentary glass of Cava, and what says hospitality better than a glass of free bubbly?

Our room of the 8th floor featured a full window wall overlooking Raval and depending on what side of the building your room was on you were in for a treat during either sunset or sunrise.

The beds were not only huge, their silky sheets also wrapped us like babies for a full night of good sleep. Guests will appreciate the pillow menu next to the bed where you can select your preferred firmness for maximum relaxation (and if desired, ultimate jumping fun).

The veritable highlight of The Barcelo is on top of the 11th floor, where the 360°, a cool rooftop bar and pool, invites city loungers and night dwellers to gentle tunes and an experience that couldn’t be more Barcelona. During the day you can get your tan going, while sipping on delectable cocktails. In the evenings this turns into a hip hangout for both hotel and outside guests who come for the views and the vibes.

But back to the immediate surroundings of our lovely accommodation. Although the overall vibe still reminded me of the Raval I had once known and lived in, the many hip cafes and shops sure gave it the air of an insider spot and walking the streets of Raval now there isn’t a corner without a stylish cafe or a cool wine bar.

One morning, following a Google search on Barcelona’s best brunch, I came across a place called Caravelle, a mere 7 minute walk from our hotel. It was packed when we arrived but we got lucky and were seated within less than 5 minutes. I can say without a doubt that breakfast here (I had the full Spanish as the vegetarian option) was something I’ve never had before. Creamy mushrooms, sauteed spinach, avocado, and some magically delicious fried eggs effortlessly turned into the best brunch I’ve had all year, possibly ever, and I still think about it weeks later.

My favorite part about Raval though is to simply just let myself get lost in it, roam the alleyways, never knowing what direction I am headed. You may end up finding yourself at a market, a square with street performers or a cafe with a vibey crowd. It has everything I’ve always loved about Barcelona and at least to me deserves the title of best neighborhood in the entire city. If you’re ever in Barcelona, come to Raval. You won’t regret it.