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The Chinese are coming in ever-growing numbers

These are the languorous days.

The days when lifting one's head to observe the hummingbird moth hawk flit and hover over the lavender is something of an accomplishment.

The hours dawdle by as even the grass is too fatigued in the 30-plus degrees heat to push its growth, and instead lies broken in its brownness.

Any dawn hint of cooling air has gone by 8am and going outside to clip back the shutters is to be hit by a relentlessly rising heat.

The birds seek refuge deep in the trees, happy to save their song for evening, leaving it to the cicadas to provide the sound in the heat-hazed background.

The sunflowers have momentarily stopped their rush to the sun - seemingly poised at 2ft, readying themselves for the water jets now so vitally needed.

The Turkish and Polish workers have moved on from the strawberry fields to the fruit plains by the Garonne. The Portuguese have not been here for two years now, undercut by the new workforce.

In the villages the tourists fan themselves with brochures collected from church and museum; red scores on backs and chests a sore testament to skin too long uncovered after months of wool-wrapped protection.

They seek the shade of the restaurant parasols and watch the square life with the blissed-out blankness of those who have earned their fortnight's reward after the drudgery of the working year.

Others flee to the dark, marble cooling interiors of chandeliered churches, sitting in unseeing, secular contemplation, sandals eased off for feet to chill and subside.

At lunchtime the locals remain inside their houses, shutters on the half-latch against the heat, rooms in semi-darkness. Now is when they snatch a half-hour's sleep, or often an hour- the heat holds no great allure for those who know it's here to stay.

Almost as an extra penance the pilgrims pick the noon sun to continue their St Jacques Way, backpacks denting their shoulders, hands clasped to the walking sticks that seem to be all that's holding some of them up.

Most walk in a silent crocodile, all breaths needed to simply step on. The lone ones frequently stop and look beyond the road ahead.

In a way June is the gentle rehearsal for July and August when the French will come, evenly split between the two months.

There is always a vague discontent around the French visitors as they pick over their food in the cafes and restaurants.

They frown as they stare unabashed at the too-loud Brits who, like unchained hounds, make no secret at their pleasure of being unleashed for however brief a time.

The Spanish and the Italians veer between elegant detachment and voluble excitement, forever on their phones, talking never texting. They are the ones who check the fashion and openly appreciate the younger, prettier women who walk by.

It's almost disturbing how most of us fit into our stereotypes.

All year round, though, the Chinese have been coming in ever-increasing numbers.

I find them the most fascinating of all to watch.

In Auvillar last week, a small group of women in their 40s came through the garden of a restaurant by the grain hall. Wearily, they climbed the steps to the terrace.

From their backpacks it seemed they too were taking the pilgrim route, but at the luxury level.

These women were not destined for the hostels with their stark dormitories. Everything from their boots to the packs themselves was of the highest quality, carefully chosen to tone and blend.

As hot as it was, they showed no signs of perspiring distress. Their hair was exquisitely cut, their make-up applied to look natural.

Sadly they arrived at 1.50pm, too late to order lunch even though it was 10 minutes until official closing.

For a brief moment, irritation and disbelief showed on each face, but it was quickly replaced by a polite half smile and a bow of acceptance.

The locals do not know quite what to make of this latest exotic wave of visitors, who seem to have no spending limit and who travel in groups, shyly always apart, limited by language yet emitting great gusts of courtesy.

Like the Americans who no longer come in such numbers, they swoop on an area, led by knowledgeable guides, then move on, huge racks of luggage in their trail.

Sadly, though not yet here, their obvious wealth and determination to carry wads of cash has led to them being targeted by petty crooks and even criminal gangs.

Chinese police officers, at the suggestion of the French, now patrol tourist spots in Paris and serve as interpreters.

Going on past figures it is thought that some two million of these, the world's top spenders, will pass through this year following a simplification of the visa entry system.

For once thinking strategically, the French government is courting the country's new millionaires.

God knows we need them, particularly in this often bypassed area.

For in these languorous days, one also has time to see the cafes which will not be reopening and the boarded-up shops.

Hard times have visibly hit here and trouble always follows, even under an energy-sapping sun.

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Food and drink

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