It is easy to see the appeal: the mix of gentle hills, thatched cottages and hugger-mugger antiques shops is only a short hop down the M4 from London, yet feels bucolic enough to seem very far away.
Now the Cotswolds is also becoming something of an escape for water enthusiasts. Cotswolds Water Park might sound like a plastic mash-up of flumes and slides but is actually a collection of 140 lakes created over the past 50 years from disused gravel pits. It's London's very own "Lake District" only two hours drive from Charing Cross.
You can make the most of a variety of sports on offer in this watery playground — or simply chill and enjoy the scenery. Most of the lakes are privately owned and developers have moved in to provide increasingly upmarket homes with contemporary designs, far removed from the archetypal Cotswolds cottage.
One of the earliest developments was Watermark, a 520-acre site south of Cirencester, based around five lakes with 350 New England-style holiday homes, nearly all fronting the water. Available properties range from resales of original 15-year-old homes, starting at £165,000 for a 900 sq ft three-bedroom terrace house overlooking Isis Lake, to £1.7 million for a built-to-order seven-bedroom home with private boathouse.
A bespoke four-bedroom home on family-friendly Landings, the largest lake, is £500,000.
"The easy access from London and the range of activities on offer is what buyers like here," says Max Thomas, Watermark's owner since 1997. "Most owners live within a two-hour drive and with the ease of working remotely, many spend large parts of the year here."
Activities on the lakes, each with its own character, include sailing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, cable skiing, kayaking and carp and trout fishing. Children zip around on bicycles, families canoe from private jetties or play tennis, and there is a good community spirit centred around the Lakeside bar and restaurant. A concierge service will stock fridges, deliver excellent prepared meals and arrange golf or spa sessions.
Homes are handsome and comfortable with clapboard exteriors painted in muted colours, with airy light interiors. Many owners put their homes into the rental pool managed on site, where rentals manager Philippa Reeves says they are booked for 60 to 70 per cent of the year.
A typical three-bedroom home rents for £1,100 a week in the summer and owners receive 70 per cent of rental income. Annual service charges of £4,000 cover security, maintenance of the two golf courses and lakes, and all gardening.
There's tight security at the entrance to The Lakes by yoo, 650 acres of woodland including six lakes near Lechlade in Gloucestershire. High-profile owners, attracted by this privacy, include Elle Macpherson and Jade Jagger.
There are plans for 160 super-modern homes with 58 sold. Prices range from £900,000 to £3 million for four to six bedrooms. On-site facilities include a fabulous new pool and well-equipped gym but, as yet, there is no restaurant. A concierge service will deliver meals or teach children to fish while owners relax on their wide balconies taking in the peace and beauty of the area.
* Watermark: watermarkclub.com (01285 869031)
* Yoo's The Lakes: thelakesbyyoo.com
Enjoying the outdoor life
Friends of Jim and Melanie Weston laughed when the couple, in their mid-forties, bought a holiday home at Watermark in 2008. "They thought buying a second home just 90 minutes from our main house was mad," says Jim, a company director who had holidayed with children Charlie and Abbie, 16 and 14, everywhere from Cuba to Thailand. "But the proximity means we use it every month."
Those same friends are now regular house guests. The Westons, from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, paid about £500,000 for a four-bedroom home on Watermark's largest lake with a private jetty and membership of the sailing club. "The second we arrive our children get into the outdoor life," says Jim. "The car stays in the drive and we all cycle everywhere. You see children from London who never knew that being outdoors was such good fun."