Destinations | Perfect Weekend

John Hitchcox’s Gloucestershire

John Hitchcox is chairman of Yoo, the international property company he co-founded with Philippe Starck. This year he launched the first-time-buyer project Green Shoots in London.

August 01 2009
Nicole Swengley

“I get up around 8am on Saturdays and collect my five-year-old daughter Lily from her mother’s house in north London, then drive to Gloucestershire, which takes about 75 minutes. I like to spend weekends in the countryside as often as possible because my London life is very urban and very busy, with work taking me to a different country at least once a week. Sometimes my older children – Henry, 18, and Pia, 16 – join us at my house at The Lakes, a country estate near Lechlade that I’m turning into a retreat for other Londoners like me. It’s on the site of an old flooded quarry in about 650 acres of undeveloped countryside and half my house sits over water. It’s very still and peaceful – a real sanctuary from the city.

Saturday morning is spent outside, either going for a walk, playing on the swings, cycling or sailing. I keep bikes at the house and have a Laser dinghy at the on-site sailing club. I know lots of the people living at The Lakes, so we generally bump into friends and Lily will go off to catch crayfish with them. At lunchtime we cycle or drive to The Village Pub at Barnsley or the New Inn at Coln St Aldwyns, then visit Lechlade Garden Centre. I’m getting increasingly enthusiastic about gardening and trying to create an arboretum with Ben Pollard, a former Kew Gardens ecologist, using only indigenous species. There’s a fantastic amount of birdlife here, so we spend the afternoon canoeing and bird-watching, or the kids might go trout fishing. The lake is nearly a mile wide and is surrounded by meadows and woods. You can spot otters, kingfishers, swans, badgers and deer. It’s a brilliant place for children.

If I’ve had time to stock up at Daylesford Organic near Kingham, we have supper at home. My cooking is fairly limited – generally chicken or salmon. Sometimes we go to Jaflong, an Indian restaurant in Lechlade, or Allium, a restaurant in Fairford which serves contemporary British cuisine, with friends from the estate. After supper we watch a DVD; usually a feel-good film, such as a Richard Curtis romcom, because I hate horror movies or films with violence.

If we have friends round for supper, we generally end up playing music. I play the guitar – mainly blues and rock, although my tastes are fairly eclectic. Music has always been a big part of my life. I learnt to play the violin and piano as a child, took up the clarinet and saxophone in my teens and started learning the guitar when I was 37. Mentally, it takes me to another place – it’s a great de-stresser. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t play a Rolling Stones track.

Bedtime can be anywhere between 11pm and 3am. I’m a bit of an insomniac and usually only sleep for five or six hours. On Sundays I get up around 8am. Generally I don’t have breakfast unless I have a hangover. Instead I hope for the perfect wind and race the Laser with members of the Bowmoor Sailing Club. Or I go kite surfing – a new pursuit for me. Both activities totally absorb the brain and I find I can live completely in the moment.

At lunchtime we cycle or drive two miles to The Swan at Southrop. It’s a traditional country pub in an old Cotswolds village run by former Londoners, Sebastian and Lana Snow, who have become great friends. I always have the fish and chips. Sunday afternoon is my time for personal reflection. I go for a walk or cycle and think about specific projects that I’m working on, making plans for the week ahead.

If Lily is with me I leave The Lakes around 4.30pm, otherwise I’ll leave around 8.30pm. When I get back to London I have supper and read for a while. I usually have four or five books on the go – mainly biographies and design subjects, or books about business people or spiritual thinking. I rarely read fiction. Being in such a lovely environment over the weekend always refreshes me and I feel ready to face the working week.”

See also