From Studios to Chateaus: How One Woman Seized a Fairytale Life
I have never seen drive quite like that of Noelle Wood. From the moment I first met her in a small aerial studio in Southwest Florida 3 years ago, it was clear she had a spirit of relentless determination.
With a background in ballet, aerial acrobatics, Pilates, and pole, she bounced between two studios teaching classes to a wide range of students. Her talent was enormous. Few could watch her routines or performances without finding themselves captured by her natural strength and the elegance of her movements.
But there was a chink in that passion. The magic that was once found within the art she had poured years of her life into was fading under the weight of life’s trials and a rat race that never ended. As time rolled by, her frustration mounted.
She knew she needed a change, yet she had no idea that it would lead her on a fantastical journey from sweaty Pilates and aerial studios to a breathtaking chateau in the French countryside.
It’s a story fitting of a modern-day fairytale, yet it didn’t happen by accident. Here is the story of how this phenomenal woman took a chance and embraced a new life and an old dream.
In the Beginning, There was Passion and Disappointment
“As a young adult, I dreamed of living in France,” Noelle recalled as she thought back on her college years. “I majored in French Literature and thought I’d work as an ambassador, living a romantic life in Paris. I would, of course, marry a Frenchman named Pierre and forget life in the United States.”
However, those dreams didn’t quite unfold the way she had hoped. In 1990, Noelle was studying abroad in France when the Gulf War began. The tensions born of that conflict created a rift between the French and the Americans.
“It was not a good time to be in France,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable speaking much of the time, so I didn’t become fluent. Instead, I went home early, tail between my legs, and figured my major was worthless. I finished what I had started by graduating with my Bachelors of Arts, but I didn't want to have anything further to do with France after my disappointment.”
From there, Noelle wasn’t quite sure what to do with her life. During her search for purpose, she took up ballet and married a Turkish man.
“Another bad choice,” she said about the marriage, but she had a beautiful son as a result.
A dance injury led her to Pilates, which sparked a new passion inside of her. After getting her certification, Noelle began teaching Pilates in 1999.
She also fell in love again. This time with a tall lumberjack of a husband who she’s still exploring life with to this day. Together, they had her second son. From there, she said, “Life continued on, good and bad, easy and difficult, as I found myself teaching nearly every day.”
Her zeal led to the creation of her own studio, then two. From there, she fell into the art of pole dancing and aerial circus arts, which she performed regularly in Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland and competed in on a national level.
“It was intense, bloody hard work, but I loved it,” she said. “After the weather became unbearable, a move to sunny Florida called me. I hoped for a calmer life with beach time, but it was the exact opposite. Non-stop training with very old and very wealthy people and, when I was lucky, with young aerialists who fed my soul after long, boring days.”
What was meant to be a reprieve from the overtime work she had known up north became a never-ending series of 7 am to 9 pm days that consumed every minute of every day.
“I was no longer living,” she confessed. “I had become completely numb and just worked to pay bills.”
Facing a Rut, One Woman Searches Desperately for Change
“I was no longer living,” she confessed. “I had become completely numb and just worked to pay bills.”
Soon, she realized something had to change. Work made her a ghost at home where she never had time to spend with her husband or son. She began to resent the teaching that she once loved to do as it became a prison that barred her from the people and things that mattered most.
“I lost my love for aerial and pole dancing which was my outlet and my passion,” she explained. “I was depressed, had health issues, and I was literally losing my hair. I hated what I had loved.”
She still remembers the moment that spurred her to break free.
“It had been another marathon day of old people who hadn’t bothered to take care of themselves, lecherous men who thought a Pilates instructor meant that I was their prostitute, and countless dealings two very difficult studio owners,” she recounted. “People kept telling me that if I just did yoga, all of my problems would melt away, so I decided to look at Yoga Trade, a website full of opportunities for traveling instructors, and dream of getting out of my situation.”
The first post immediately caught her eye: “Work as a volunteer renovating a Chateau in France!”
Despite the fact that it wasn’t a paid job, something inside of her whispered to give it a shot. She filled out the application, including her husband and her son, but didn’t hold out hope.
After all, she wasn’t a yoga instructor and she came as a family package, not a solo volunteer without attachments.
However, fate’s hidden hand held a surprise for Noelle and her family, and it would play its cards when she least expected it.
A Castle in France Calls Her Name
As time swept by, life’s challenges didn’t relent. No matter how hard Noelle tried, everything seemed to be careening downhill with unstoppable momentum.
That is, until the summer of 2017.
“I had just finished a pole art competition and — not surprisingly — hadn’t done well. I was so incredibly low, so I chose to stop in St. Augustine before heading home.”
Standing on the banks near the Castillo de San Marcos, hope came to her in the form of a message from the owners of the chateau in France.
“It was a truly unbelievable moment,” Noelle said. “Just when I thought my life might be over, an incredible opportunity was available.”
She completed a Skype interview before the owners of the chateau officially invited her and her family to come and be a part of the renovation efforts.
Questions arose with the new opportunity. She was excited, but worried, as she wondered how they would be welcomed in France as Americans. Yet her fears wouldn’t make her falter. After getting their passports, Noelle packed up her family and ventured overseas.
There, she found new life and renewed passion in a world far removed from the one she left behind in the States.
“I fell in love with the castle immediately despite all the work she needed,” she said. “Suddenly, I needed my French again. It was wonderful to hear it again and be immersed in the countryside, and no one cared that we were Americans.”
The experience lifted the weight from Noelle’s heart, revitalizing her zeal for life. It was a spirit that the owners picked up on and they, too, wanted her and her family to stay.
Soon after the experience and Noelle’s return home, the owners of the chateau reached out again. They needed a manager for the yoga studio, the chateau grounds, and the retreats that would be held there.
Joy warred with doubt as she considered their offer.
“I really wanted to do it, but again I thought to myself, ‘It’s impossible! You have a 12-year-old child and a husband who doesn’t speak any French, you don’t know a thing about yoga, and you won’t be able to get a work visa.’”
Doubts were compounded by other challenges, such as damages to their home left in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the feat of acquiring a 200-hour yoga certification, and the mountains of frustrating paperwork that had to be completed in order to get their visas.
“The hardest part was getting my 200-hour yoga certification,” Noelle remarked. “I felt like I was a round block being forced into a square hole.”
Yet after countless cups of Starbucks coffee (and more than a few temper tantrums), those doubts crumbled once more beneath the strong hand of fate as every piece fell into place.
With 15 minutes to spare on a Friday afternoon in rainy Miami before Memorial Day weekend, Noelle and her family got their passports stamped with visas and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Then, in May of 2018, they returned to France and the chateau they helped restore.
Embracing a New Life in an Old Castle
Like the old chateau they had poured themselves into fixing up, Noelle renovated her life in a way that gave it a second chance. She became the Property Guardian of Chateau de Goas.
There, every day is different. From managing groups of up to 30 people who come for vacation or retreats to tackling various renovation projects, there is never a dull moment, and the people who visit are no less colorful than the French countryside.
“We’ve had Americans, French and Spanish spend their time here, as well as salsa dancers, a group of guys escaping the daily grind, painters, yogis, and 17 little children,” she said.
A Glimpse at Daily Chateau Life
“We are always working on a renovation project here so it may mean meeting French people for quotes or helping them get started with their work. It might mean that Manu, the mechanic, will stop by with a pumpkin and sausage.
“The English up the road may pop in to say hello and ask us to ‘repas dans la rue’ or to a ‘vide grenier’. Often we will have the neighbors who have known the family for years come by to see how we are and if things are going well.
“Sometimes I get my haircut in a neighboring chateau by a Parisian hairdresser. And on great days, I still get my dose of lyra and silks training completed in the glorious yoga studio.
“Every day is a surprise and it rarely gets boring!”
When asked to describe what it’s like to live in this modern-day fairytale landscape, Noelle replied, “The chateau is a complete escape from the rat race. There is peace and complete quiet here. We have 12 bedrooms, a gorgeous park, a huge yoga and aerial studio, and very soon a large swimming pool. Surrounding us are small towns and villages, each unique and ancient with markets and sights.”
Sound like a dream? Chateau de Goas isn’t a private oasis. With the chateau now open, you can plan a trip there for you and your family or friends.
The chateau-turned-retreat-center accepts groups of 9 to 20 people for just about any reason, including family reunions and retreats for writing, yoga, painting, aerial circus arts, and more.
For more information, you can visit http://chateaudegoas.com/.
Final Thoughts About a Grand and Unexpected Adventure
Even now, Noelle admits that life is a bit unsettled. She and her family are still waiting to move into their permanent housing on the property and acquire the health insurance she so often went without in the United States.
She jokes that “France is like Mexico, but with croissants.” It moves at its own pace; one that requires patience.
And yet she is so much healthier now than she has been in years.
“I have time to read and hopefully write again soon,” she said. “I finally have time to spend helping my son, and I even eat three meals a day, instead of just one at midnight!”
The journey, though wild and full of unexpected turns, bumps, and surprises, has led Noelle from the lowest point in her life to a brand new adventure that ties all of her passions and talents to the people that matter.
When asked what she would say to others who felt the way she did before this grand, new adventure, Noelle’s words are simple.
“To anyone who feels stuck in life, I encourage you to keep moving forward,” she said. “Things that don’t make sense now are preparing you for something you can’t even imagine. Be open to everything!”
And she’s right, for you never know what surprises (or chateaus!) lie ahead unless you give it a try.