It was in 2002 that Brian Hilliard and Antonella Macconi began the search for a retreat center in central Italy. They envisioned a beautiful place in the countryside to host people from the Shambhala community and other Buddhist organisations. They saw no less than fifty properties in Tuscany, Umbria, and Le Marche, and none of them were appropriate. By the spring of 2003 they were rather exhausted from the search. At that time Brian received a message from Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. Khenpo would be coming to their new retreat center in few weeks and would teach a 3 day seminar. Brian informed Khenpo that they did not have a retreat center. But then Khenpo replied that he would like to come anyway. So feeling slightly squeezed, they began preparations for the seminar.
Antonella began to enquire about possible places to rent for Khenpo. There was an estate nearby that rented farmhouses for tourists. They checked it out and reserved a house. The houses here were mostly renovated on the upper levels, while the ground floors remained in their original condition, i.e. a stable for animals. The estate was beautiful.
Khenpo arrived as scheduled and conducted a wonderful seminar with about 12 participants. As there were limited facilities their seminar was conducted by standing around a very large dining room table, with occasional singing and dancing. It was a wonderful time and they enjoyed the house and countryside immensely. One of the participants, Angelika, thought to enquire about the houses on the estate, and heard that many of them were for sale. They quickly checked the other houses, and discovered that where they were staying was the best. They realised that, thanks to Khenpo Rinpoche, the search was over. By the fall they purchased Il Poggio.
In 2004 the renovation began. The wood shed would be transformed into a kitchen and the stables below the main house would become the sala for all future activities, as well as private accommodation. Khenpo Rinpoche again returned that year and taught another excellent seminar with singing and dancing. Then they requested Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to name the new retreat center. Thus Casa Garuda was born. The Sakyong, true to form, gave the perfect name. Khenpo returned one more time in 2005 saying that first they had a house, then they had Casa Garuda, and finally they had a good Casa Garuda.
Since then Casa Garuda has hosted many excellent teachers and dedicated practitioners of meditation and other disciplines. A wonderful highlight was the visit of The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche who came to teach even though he was busy organising Karmapa’s first visit to the United States. When Rinpoche wasn’t teaching “Mind Beyond Death” he was skyping.
Many people have come to enjoy a holiday mixed with a little meditation practice. The famous platform on the hill has gone through many iterations. Once a wind came and blew away the whole structure, including the attached tent. At another time it barely endured a raging wind as an important warrior assembly was about to begin. Now it is finally becoming a permanent structure.
In 2015 Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche came and blessed Casa Garuda. While Brian has expanded his teaching activities to other places, Antonella continues to maintain and develop Casa Garuda and make it endure. It is a place that is truly blessed and provides great benefit for many fortunate people.