Escaping the gloom needn't mean soul-sapping flights and a dose of jet lag that would make Keith Richards look fresh-faced. Here's our guide to winter sun in the northern hemisphere.

Sharm el Sheikh - Egypt

Journey time: 4 to 5 hours from London.
Average January temperature: 18°C (64°F).
Time difference: GMT + 2.

Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea is a centre for diving, with reefs, wrecks and an abundance of dazzling fish. True, it's very developed, but if it's a week in the sun you're after, you could do much worse. For something a little more authentic, head out into the desert to explore Bedouin camps or Saint Catherine's Monastery one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world.

Muscat - Oman

Journey time: 7 hours from London.
Average January temperature: 25°C (77°F).
Time difference: GMT + 4.

More traditionally Arab than many places in the region, Muscat's a town of whitewashed avenues, afternoon siestas, barbecues on the beach and long chats in coffee shops over a sheesha (water pipe) and a dish of dates. Winter sun in a romantic, exotic location.

La Gomera - Canary Islands

Journey time: 4 hours from London.
Average January temperature: 21°C (69°F).
Time difference: GMT.

Rugged La Gomera is the second smallest and one of the most charming Canary Islands. Wreathed in moist sub-tropical forest where ancient laurels wear tresses of moss, the island attracts walkers, flora enthusiasts and escapees from nearby Tenerife (only 30 minutes by ferry). Three black volcanic beaches cater for sunbathers.

Gambia - West Africa

Journey time: 6 hours from London.
Average January temperature: 31°C (88°F).
Time difference: GMT.

Africa's smallest nation has sandy beaches, lush tropical forests, swamps, marshes and large areas of wooded savannah. Relax on the beaches in the resort area near Banjul or take a boat trip on the River Gambia to spot monkeys, pelicans and hippos.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.