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Yoo Retreat | The Times Spa Guide



The Times Good Spa Guide | 14 August 2013

Yoo Retreat hosted
by Denise Leicester


A former nurse and beauty guru aims to improve your life balance in just three days at this luxury break in the “The Hamptons of England”. By Laura Ivill

USP: Leave your phone and iPad at home, and enter another world at this lakeland estate in the Cotswolds. Ninety minutes from London, this mini-retreat for the cash-rich, time-poor delivers exactly what we over-stimulated city folk are looking for - in just three days: a detox, quality me-time and inspiration for a much improved life balance. It’s the vision of Denise Leicester, founder of Ila, the organic luxury skincare range and spa brand. Leicester, groomed, glowing, warm and serene, puts emphasis on “place” for her Ila spas and retreats around the world (of which she has many, including at Four Seasons Maldives and Ananda in the Himalyas). At the Lakes by Yoo she has found a natural fit –think Swallows and Amazons country, “The Hamptons of England”. A former nurse, Leicester, a yoga teacher, guides you through your practice in the Bird House twice a day, plus Nordic walking before breakfast, a programme of spa treatments and meditation. Despite the fact that her business turns over £1.5 million and operates in more than 80 countries, she is your host throughout – I never saw her on the phone.

Ambience: The Lakes by Yoo is a private second-home leafy estate populated by affluent West Londoners, covering 650 acres of wild-flower woodland, parkland and lakeland. Mark Owen of Take That has a place here, as does Elle McPherson – you stay in her three-storey home, the Dockhouse, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking across water towards uninhabited wilderness. You eat at her open-plan kitchen table and treatments take place in-room. Leicester’s retreat is non-religious, more spiritual, involving Kriya yoga, chakra asanas and breath meditation. There’s lots of talk of chakras, so go with an open mind. There’s no pressure to shine as part of a group. Just be yourself.

Quality of experience: The purpose is to offer you ideas and practices that you can integrate into your life back home, and Leicester follows up with you afterwards. You will write a “joy list” of 60 things you love to have in your life and you’re encouraged to do at least one of them every day, so you don’t lose sight of what makes you happy. It’s simple, but genius. “Be gentle to yourself and recognise what’s not good for you,” Leicester says, as the key to health and happiness. Treatments are powerful – the two-hour Adreno Restore (adrenal rebalancing) left me blissfully relaxed yet energised; the Rainforest Facial involves lymph drainage and I was very glad of a sleep in my own bed afterwards – deeply refreshing.

Food and drink: The fact that you will be going without caffeine, sugar, meat and alcohol is no hardship when your raw-food chef arrives to prepare meals with delicacy, skill and precision. He makes sushi with puréed cauliflower, beetroot and parsnips instead of rice, and truffles from nut paste. Other meals are sourced from the local organic farm shop and prepared by your 24-hour concierge team.

In-crowd: Female execs and bankers considering a career or life change, and anyone suffering from high-flyers’ burn-out. The actress Tina Hobley of Casualty already has a house on the estate yet, nevertheless, came for time to reflect. Men are still a rarity, although “one of our male guests said it made him feel more open and honest”, Leicester says.

Wallet watch: From £1,250 for a single room to £2,100 for the master suite, including all meals and treatments and plenty of beauty products.

Need to know: The Lakes, near Lechlade, Gloucestershire (01367 250 066, The retreats run monthly, from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday morning.