Thieves nab 2-mn-euro haul from vaunted French chateau

The Vaux-le-Vicomte palace, set amid sumptuous gardens about 50 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of Paris, has been owned by the same family since 1875. (AFP Photo/STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN)

Bobigny (France) (AFP) - The owners of a 17th-century French palace said to be the model for Versailles were tied up as their opulent home was ransacked Thursday by robbers who fled with a haul worth two million euros ($2.2 million), police said.

The Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau, set amid sumptuous gardens about 50 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of Paris, has been owned by the same family since 1875.

A police source said six hooded but unarmed robbers found neckties belonging to Patrice de Vogue, 90, to tie up him and his wife Cristina, 78, in their lodging on the grounds of the palace.

The thieves targeted a safe and stole emeralds and other items, but did not attempt to make off with the chateau's works of art.

The couple was not injured during the robbery, which occurred shortly before dawn, according to prosecutors in the nearby city of Melun.

"The owners are doing fine and the chateau remains open for visits as usual," the palace's management told AFP.

Patrice de Vogue opened the estate to the public in 1968, and it is now run by the couple's three sons.

The chateau was built by Louis XIV's finance minister Nicolas Fouquet, who according to legend fell from grace in 1661, shortly after the building work was finished, when he staged an elaborate party there and aroused the Sun King's envy.

Fouquet spent the rest of his life in jail. The monarch then seized the palace and moved its most precious artworks and other objects to Versailles.

It is the largest privately owned heritage site in France, sprawled over 500 hectares (1,200 acres), and has some 250,000 visitors each year.

The chateau often stands in for Versailles for movie and television productions, from the Roger Moore Bond hit "Moonraker" to Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette".

It has become a prize spot for celebrity wedding parties, such as the lavish 2007 bash for French basketball star Tony Parker and "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria.