The geographic distribution throughout Europe of each of 32 chloroplast DNA variants belonging to eight white oak species sampled from 2613 populations is presented. Clear-cut geographic patterns were revealed by the survey. These distributions, together with the available palynological information, were used to infer colonisation routes out of the glacial period refugia. In western Europe in particular, movements out of the Iberian and the Italian Peninsulas can be clearly identified. Separate refugia are also present in eastern Balkans, whereas further west in this peninsula similarities with Italy were evident. Movements resulting in the exchange of haplotypes between refugia both during the present interglacial and probably also during earlier glacial cycles were therefore inferred. The consequences of these past exchanges is that phylogenetically divergent haplotypes have sometimes followed very similar colonisation routes, limiting somewhat the phylogeographic structure. Cases of geographic disjunction in the present-day distribution of haplotypes are also apparent and could have been induced by the existence of rapid climatic changes at the end of the glacial period (specifically the Younger Dryas cold period), which resulted in range restriction following an early warm period during which oak first expanded from its primary refugia. This cold phase was followed by a new period of expansion at the outset of the Holocene, involving in some cases `secondary' refugia. It is expected that these short climate oscillations would have led to a partial reshuffling of haplotype distribution. Early association between haplotypes and oak species are also suggested by the data, although extensive introgression among species has ultimately largely blurred the pattern. This implies that colonisation routes may have been initially constrained by the ecological characteristics of the species hosting each chloroplast variant. We suggest for instance that two oak species distributed in the north of the Iberian Peninsula (Quercus petraea and Q. pubescens) are recent post-glacial immigrants there. When considered together, conclusions on the location of glacial period refugia and the colonisation routes derived from molecular information and fossil pollen data appear to be both largely compatible and complementary.