It’s A ‘Swallows And Amazons’ Experience At Lakes By Yoo

“We see ourselves as gatekeepers for the future,” says Rebecca Davies, the estate manager at Lakes by Yoo, a rambling, rural estate boasting a series of luxury home-from-homes in the Cotswolds. We are looking out across an eco-pond, which is bursting with life, with incredible-looking, tall bull rushes and cotton grasses, surrounding the water. As we talk, an electric-blue damselfly skips over the grasses and bees buzz gently around the wild flowers growing alongside the pond. It’s like we stepped back in time, to an idyllic, pastoral scene.

It is clear that sustainability and a love for the environment is at the very heart of Lakes by Yoo – in fact, it has been an integral part of the estate since it launched in 2008 – and the eco-ponds, bodies of water which have been left to grow wild with no human intervention, are just one tiny piece of the ‘green’ jigsaw.

The countryside resort, found close to Lechlade on the cusp of the southern Cotswolds, is found on some 850 acres, made up of lakes, meadows and woodlands. Conservation and ecology are par for the course here, with over 500,000 trees having been planted, a mini farm created, bees cultivated, and millions invested to create an ecologically respectful environment​. As a result, it has recently won the coveted Marie Claire award for ‘Best Sustainable Holiday with Kids (UK) 2022’.

“We were thrilled, of course,” says Rebecca about the accolade. “But we are not doing this to get awards. Our ethos is just part of what we do – it would be madness not to be ecologically sound, given the untouched nature we are in.”

Lakes by Yoo was originally founded by property entrepreneur John Hitchcox and designer Philippe Starck some 14 years ago. They had identified a growing demand to create a luxury, private, yet family-friendly escape from metropolitan life. Since then the project has grown from a handful of houses perched around a lake into one that sees 178 properties, ranging in value from £1.5 million (for a three-bedroom apartment) to £8 million (for a five-bedroom house), hidden away across a series of idyllic lakeside settings. Shying away from a cookie-cutter, ‘new home’ approach, the dwellings have characterful interiors, with some having been designed by starry names, including Kate Moss, Kelly Hoppen and Jade Jagger.

The latest development, and new for this summer, are nine two-bedroom cabins and 18 three-bedroom apartments, perfect for couples, families and groups of friends to escape for a few days. Available for shorter bookings, guests are able to opt to stay for two-nights, making it an ideal luxury weekend break from London.

With lake-views and top-end interiors by Yoo Studio, the apartments capture a countryside-chic, yet don’t shy away from a five-star appeal. A rich palette of colours brings sophistication, with beautiful cabinetry throughout, such as the burnt-orange kitchens, mustard-yellow cupboards and sage-green wardrobes. Natural and local materials, such as Cotswold stone and locally woven willow, are also thoughtfully used, while contemporary touches include double-height, open-plan living spaces complete with statement wood burners, a split-level deck with outdoor furniture and marble bathrooms.

The look is softened with layers of textiles, including woven throws, velvet cushions and soft rugs underfoot. Juxtaposed with padded headboards and oversized sofas are antique finds and eclectic treasures, such as carved church benches, wooden letter racks and vintage dining chairs. The result is full of interest and wonderfully cosseting.

As well as the beautifully-curated interiors, there is a strong emphasis on harnessing the most from your stay at Lakes by Yoo. Guests can tap into the dedicated concierge service, which is able to arrange bespoke experiences and events on demand – from cocktail tasting in your apartment to a private chef to cook up a celebratory meal.

Elevating a self-catering stay further, you can also pre-order chef-cooked meals (so no cooking is required) or ask for your fridge to be stocked with locally-sourced produce – fresh juice, organic granola, local smoked salmon – for hearty breakfasts eaten al fresco on the terrace.

Days unfold slowly at Lakes by Yoo. If you want to go for a swim, there’s an indoor swimming pool at the spa (where you can also be pampered with the latest beauty therapies and treatments), as well as a small gym, and sauna and steam room. But the joy here is really all about getting immersed in the great outdoors.

Bikes are available to hire so you can whizz around freely, the wind in your hair. For children, the idea is that staying at the Lakes offers a version of “a ‘Swallows and Amazons’ experience”, says Rebecca. “Within the safety of the estate, they can truly be free and experience life away from screens, immersed in the wilderness.” The same can be said for adults.

There’s boating on the water to enjoy, zip-wiring across the lakes, and an adrenalin-pumping high-ropes experience. Kayaking, paddle-boarding and even swimming in the lakes is encouraged: “We are not in the business of saying no to anything. We just point out the risks and give people the freedom to decide,” says Rebecca. In fact, the risks are minimal here, with plenty of experts on hand to help with the climbing wall or lessons with any of the water-sports. Even the lake water is blue-flag standard.

After a morning of activities, you can make a pitstop at the estate’s quirky restaurant, Elsa’s, found in an alfresco tipi setting with a wood fire at its centre. During the rest of the summer, it will also be home to a series of summer pop-ups with artisan companies, such as Fuego Dining Co, which specialise in outdoor food and ‘sociable cooking’.

Exploring is key – one minute you’ll be ‘aghhing’ over the rescue animals – pigs, goats, chickens – at the on-site farm; the next, you can be sat by the bucolic River Colne, which runs through the estate. Adding another point of interest is the modern art which is found scattered around and is gallery-level impressive. At the entrance to the spa, for example, is KAWS’ ‘Gone’ sculpture, while set by the boating lake is Yoshitomo Nara’s ‘Your Dog’ – a huge white form, which is cast in aluminium. The idea, says Rebecca, is for the estate to cultivate an ‘art park’ with other pieces – such as artist Sarah Sze’s ‘Untitled (Fallen Sky Series) 2021’ stainless steel sculpture – to be installed soon.

Community is also a priority here, with produce from the farm and vegetable gardens harvested several times a week and left in wooden crates at the entrance of the estate for residents to help themselves – from organic eggs to aromatic herbs; heritage tomatoes to sweet squash. In fact, all varieties of fruit and vegetables grown at Lakes by Yoo are of the heritage variety and grown from seeds, offering a true farm-to-table experience.

Afternoons can be spent fishing or discovering the arboretum, perhaps visiting the bee hives (fresh honey is also available to pick up). Come nightfall, you can sit on your deck and watch the herons drift over the water. It’s as though time has stood still.

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