Ship shape: Viking Star will sail from Barcelona to Rome

Cruise prices are lower in winter and you can take the opportunity to add a city break where you join or leave the ship

It is hardly surprising that the Mediterranean is a popular region for cruising; you can visit several different countries in a week, and catch rays round the pool on board. According to the Cruise Line International Association, there were 152 ships in the Mediterranean in 2014 and 613,000 of the passengers were from the UK.

But wouldn't you rather be sightseeing in Barcelona, Rome, Valletta or Marseille without the crowds and blistering heat? If the weather is chilly you can retreat to your ship's lounges, bars, spas, gyms, and indoor pools. Only a handful of ships sail on the Mediterranean in winter, meaning ships can dock nearer the centre in ports. The two main players are Italian lines MSC, with two ships based in Genoa this winter, and Costa Cruises, sailing between Barcelona, Marseille and Savona in Italy.

Cruise prices are lower in winter and you can take the opportunity to add a city break where you join or leave the ship, too, when air fares will be lower than the peak months. For example, Ryanair fares from Stansted to Genoa are currently £20 one way for many dates in January and February (excluding baggage fees). Savona cruise port is less than one hour by train from Genoa, costing about £4.50 one way.

Despite the Costa Concordia tragedy in February 2012, the company continues to operate similar itineraries. Week-long Marvellous Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona to Marseille aboard the 4,947-passenger Costa Diadema cost from £229pp, calling at Palma de Mallorca, Civitavecchia (for Rome), La Spezia and Savona. Ancient Greece cruises of 11 nights on the smaller, more traditional Costa neoClassica (1,308 passengers) from Savona to Marseille, with calls including Naples and Athens, start at £399pp. Both make frequent departures, January to March (0800 389 0622;

A one-week Western Mediterranean round-trip from Genoa aboard the 3,502-passenger MSC Preziosa, departing on 30 January, calls at Civitavecchia, Palermo, Valletta, Valencia and Marseille. Cruise-only prices in a balcony cabin start at £349pp. The slightly smaller MSC Fantasia sails on an 11-night Eastern Mediterranean circuit from Genoa on 30 January, with calls including Katakolon (for Olympia), Athens, Rhodes, Valletta, and Crete. Cruise-only balcony cabin fares start at £549pp (020 3426 3010;

Alternatively chose Viking Star, a new luxury ship with 465 cabins, all with balconies, sailing for seven nights from Barcelona to Rome on 10 January. Flights, transfers, six guided tours, and drinks with meals are included, from £2,399pp (0800 014 7541;