Getting away from it all is paramount to our wellbeing. Showing this to be true, is this exclusive life-affirming Cotswolds retreat that is currently a sanctuary to over one hundred families. Jessica Way chats to John Hitchcox about his vision for this very special countryside estate and the stylish new lakeside cabins and apartments launching in time for Christmas.
One more visit to the Lakes by Yoo is never enough. This private-gated 900-acre countryside retreat is designed to feel so much like home, you never want to leave – and when you do, you are left eager to return. It was a concept developed way ahead of its time, dreamt up by successful property entrepreneur John Hitchcox, while living in London and imagining of a better upbringing for his kids. “I was a total urbanite, but I wanted the kids to be brought up in the country – somewhere they could play outside, explore woodland, go sailing and more.”
This heavenly oasis is designed as a bolthole to come back to, with many residents owning properties as lifestyle investments. There’s a warm village community where property owners and rental guests alike are made to feel extremely welcome in a reassuring and peaceful setting for contemporary modern living. Just as John had hoped, it is “a place parents can come with their children, at weekends and during school holidays, picking up as much country living as they can, while still enjoying the benefits of a life in London too”.
During the late 1990’s John’s friend Philippe Starck, known by many as the world’s most talented designer, was equally as enthused by the challenge of creating somewhere “families could get back to nature and enjoy the great outdoors”, and together they co-founded Yoo (the property design company behind The Lakes by Yoo). “Over the years I have worked with many world class designers, mostly notably my business partner Philippe. Above all, we are always looking to do something that is different to everyone else.” This was back in 1999 – and what a vicennium it has been, the property dream team have stopped at nothing, pulling out all the stops, and achieving so much. Yet, here we are in 2021, more than twenty years later, and another exciting chapter to the story is just beginning to unfold – with the Lakes by Yoo first-ever lakeside cabins and apartments.
Interior design masterpieces, 4-6 bedroom homes, are dotted about within the glorious parkland lakes, woods and meadows. Prices for these homes range between £2m and £7m, with many available for rental costing between £12,000 and £40,000 per week. The lakeside cabins and apartments, however, are first-time smaller properties that have been designed on the estate, and are available to rent from £1000 per night, or to buy from £1.1 million. Designed from a range of layouts and styles, each property at the Lakes is bespoke. “We make sure each property blends in with the scenery, so it feels harmonious,” Hitchcox explains. “And we insist on using entirely local materials – larch from local farms, Cotswold stone, for instance.”
Staying overnight with my family in the first cabin (now available for bookings, with a further five launching before Christmas) was an absolute delight. The apartments will also be ready for Christmas, with bookings available from December 15. Inside is as breathtakingly beautiful as the lakes on the outside, decorated using a rich and earthy colour palette of burnt reds, chocolates and ochres. There are deep velvet armchairs, eclectic artwork and vintage ornaments. Double-height open plan living with a glazed frontage that floods the room with natural light, and a spacious outdoor entertaining deck. We were especially impressed by the bespoke and convenient folding kitchenette – which can be concealed when not in use. There’s a wood burner that sits in front of a beautiful stone wall extending into the double height living area, and lots of local materials including tonal timbers and statement pendant lighting, handwoven in willow by local craftsmen. Even the beds and mattresses are handmade in Devon using natural fibres from a sustainable resource.
And it is not just the accommodation offering that has benefited from a huge investment. Over the past decade the team have taken what was previously a barren 850-acre gravel pit expanse to a beautiful, secluded setting, complete with a wealth of natural wildlife and stunning scenery. At the heart of John Hitchcox’s vision is the creation of a conservation park to reinvest in the countryside which included the planting of 500,000 new trees, multiple new lakes, and woodland habitats. There is also a farm with livestock, chickens and market garden, as well as beehives and a whole range of other sustainable and ecological initiatives. “Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do across the Yoo Group, which is why we even have the company Yoo Energy, dedicated to alternative energy such as wind farms and other sources.”
It is no surprise that the exclusive resort is a firm-favourite with many celebrity and VIP guests, with Simon le Bon, Kate Moss and Jade Jagger among John’s closest friends. “You could call it entirely selfish, but I tend to build things that I love. With regard to the Lakes, my vision was to create a beautiful estate for my children. Ironically, by the time it was ready, my eldest had grown up and fled the nest, but seeing other families and children enjoying the estate still made me incredibly happy”.
Within easy walking distance of the new cabins and apartments is the Orchard Spa, a glorious 17 metre heated pool, sauna, steamroom and jacuzzi and therapists for indulgent treatments. There is also the on-site tepee restaurant, Lynwood Café, a much-loved part of the estate serving a range of food and drink, from cappuccinos to café eats. Most weeks they have special guest food and drink visits. Throughout the summer they have pit and fire night serving flamed grills to residents three times a week. Plans are also underway to create a larger restaurant and clubhouse to suit the increasing needs of residents and guests. All the produce from the farm as well as eggs and honey are offered on a complimentary basis to all residents.
There are numerous on-site activities including paddle boarding, zip wiring, yoga, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and bike hire. The resort even boasts its own resident Bear Grylls, Angus, who looks after the maintenance of the lakes while keeping the youngest guests (and the young at heart) enthused, entertained and safe during activities. We first met Angus during our experience on the Zip Wire across Warrens Cross Lake. His assurance was most welcomed, especially during the ‘leap of faith’ ascent from the top ledge of the climbing wall.
There’s lots to keep little Lakes’ explorers entertained too – in addition to a Kids Club with Sharky and George, they have a packed schedule of fun including workshops in Pizza Making, Martial Arts, Fairy Princess Crown Making, and Den Building. Tennis Coaching classes, rugby training and football training are also available to book. “Everyone feels like they’re part of things here. We wanted to build a community and have residents be part of those things they care about. And that’s what we’ve got here – a group of likeminded people, most are from London, but with an international flair. Now our residents all know each other, and they appreciate that – they know what it’s like to be in a new country and start again with the social life.”
During our stay, the Lakes Art Park had just launched at the estate, housing the artwork ‘Your Dog’ and ‘GONE’ by Yoshitomo Nara and KAWS. The idea behind the Lakes Art Park is for the Lakes to showcase work by some of the world’s finest artists and sculptors and provide a cultural extension for residents and visitors. “It has long been our vision to champion immersive and enriching new experiences. We are thrilled to be partnering with artistic talent from around the world to enhance the cultural and educational experience for families and young people on the estate.”
“For me it’s all about the creative use of space, whether that be a vertical village in Panama, this private estate in the Cotswolds or even our redevelopment of Olympia in London. It’s all about bringing new ideas and innovation to the concept”. Just another one of John’s impressive projects of the moment…“I am so excited about Olympia. We really are reimagining and restoring one of Britain’s greatest landmarks for the 21st century. Construction is well under way, and we cannot wait to introduce it to the public in a couple of years.”
I asked John how he likes to spend his time at the Lakes. “Typically, a day at The Lakes involves family. We are up bright and early for a quick cappuccino, then out on the canoes, lunch on the BBQ. It’s then often a choice between biking or sailing for the afternoon and either an outdoor movie or a walk by the river in the evening”. We agreed, one silver lining from Covid-19 has been the awakening to our family time and health with nothing more important than our experiences and memories. I don’t think John could have planned better timing for the lakeside cabins and apartments to launch.
I was also curious to find some insider knowledge, asking John where on the estate he likes to be the most – and if he has any favourite hideouts. “We are lucky to have 950 acres and many of us have our own favourite secret places. I shouldn’t tell you mine, but we sometimes take an old Land Rover down to the far end of the river for a picnic. It always amazes me that however many families are visiting the estate, it never feels busy”.
There’s no question that it is John’s children who are to thank for his overall motivation. As we left waving goodbye, John and his four-year old son Marley rode past us on their bikes smiling back. John’s idea for creating memories with a taste of the countryside for those desperate to escape the everyday of London has not only been realised, John himself is now benefiting from his own vision and dream.
To find out more visit → thelakesbyyoo.com
Words | Jessica Way