Q. We are hoping to take our four-year-old son away for a pre-Christmas short break. As it will be during the week before Christmas, we don't want to fly too far. Where will we be guaranteed reasonable sunshine and some nice outdoor activities? D Elms, via email
A. Short-haul sunshine in December can be as elusive as a white Christmas at home; even the most renowned of radiant Mediterranean locations can turn grey. So you may have to look beyond the Costa del Sol for some pre-Christmas rays.
With an average temperature of 22C in December, Gran Canaria is a reliable option. The third largest of the Canary Islands (after Tenerife and Fuerteventura) has terrain varied enough to satisfy outdoor-thrill junkies as well as beach lizards. Highlights range from the natural – Roque Nublo, an 80m-high monolith in the mountains – to the man-made: Parque de los Cocodrilos (00 34 928 784 725; Sunday-Friday 10am-6pm; €9.80/£8.20 adults, €6.50/ £5.40 children). Despite its name, this zoo houses more than just crocodiles, and started life as a sanctuary for badly treated animals.
If the Atlantic is a bit too chilly for a swim, you could spend an afternoon splashing about in one of the island's water parks. Aqualand (00 34 928 14 05 25; aqualand.es), near the resort of Maspalomas, is the largest. However, the beaches around Maspalomas on the south coast, despite being about as developed as this island gets, are pleasant enough for a stroll or a paddle, and are backed by rolling sand dunes and palm trees.
If you prefer something with a bit more character, a 10-mile drive west brings you to the lively town of Puerto de Mogán, with its pretty harbour and waterways. Things get more unspoilt still as you head into the mountainous north, with pine forests, quiet villages and dramatic ravines.
Bear in mind that, approaching Christmas, prices will rise substantially. Cadogan Holidays (0845 615 6793; cadoganholidays.com) is currently offering four nights' half-board at the Hotel Riu Grand Palace in Maspalomas for £2,204 for the three of you. This includes flights with easyJet from Gatwick on 20 December, returning 24 December, and transfers. The beachfront hotel has a children's pool, activities, a spa and wellness centre.
Alternatively, you could use Ryanair's new flights (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Stansted to Agadir in southern Morocco as an excuse to explore the country's south Atlantic coast and Saharan desert.
Temperatures in December can vary between 10C and 20C, but things heat up as you head towards the desert. As of two days ago, flights departing Stansted on 18 December and returning on 22 December came to a very reasonable £77 each.
An attractive hotel beyond the city's touristy beach resorts is Ksar Massa (00 212 61 28 03 19; ksarmassa.com), around 25 miles south of the city in the Souss-Massa national park.
The low-key lodging, with its traditional Moroccan decor, is set among deserted sand dunes. Facilities include a swimming pool and hammam, and guided walks around the national park – a bird sanctuary attracting flamingos, marbled teals and cranes – are offered, as well as excursions to Goulimine, the gateway to the Sahara.
Double rooms cost 1,800 dirham (£138) including breakfast, with an additional 400 dirham (£30) for your son.
Another option is to look east. A seven-hour flight will get you to Oman, where Original Travel (020-7978 7333; originaltravel.co.uk) has availability for a five-night break departing 18 December, staying at Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Al Waha Hotel in Muscat. A five-night break at the luxurious beachfront resort for the three of you would cost £3,990 including Oman Air flights from Heathrow, transfers and a family room with breakfast.
Temperatures in Oman at this time of year average a comfortable 20C. In addition to the sandy beaches the interior is spectacular, with mountains, desert dunes and villages. For more on this fascinating part of the world, see our Complete Guide to the Gulf on pages 16-18.
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail email@example.com