To unravel the postglacial migration history of hazel, Corylus avellana, the genetic variation at two types of chloroplast DNA markers, polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) and microsatellites, was assessed in 26 natural hazel populations distributed across the range of C. avellana. In addition a sequence of 2468 base pairs, which contains the matK gene, was analysed in seven individuals. Very little variation was detected overall [hT:PCR-RFLP= 0.091, hT:microsatellite= 0.423, π (nucleotide diversity) = 0.00093] but the microsatellite markers, which have the highest levels of variation, show a clear geographical structure that divides Europe into two areas: (i) Italy and the Balkans, on one hand and (ii) the rest of Europe, on the other hand. These data exclude Italy and the Balkans as possible origins of the postglacial recolonization but cannot unambiguously show which other area is the origin, since the genetic data does not indicate the direction of spread. If we take the pollen record into account, the most likely scenario would be an expansion from southwestern France into most of Europe except Italy and the Balkans, and then a local expansion in the latter area. The two main haplotypes identified with both PCR-RFLP and sequencing, A and B, were found not only in C. avellana but also in other European Corylus species and cultivars. Haplotype A, which is dominating all investigated natural populations of C. avellana, is also found in the European tree hazel (C. colurna) and haplotype B, which is rare in C. avellana, has been identified in the filbert (C. maxima) and C. avellana cultivars. This pattern seems to indicate a history of past hybridization among the European Corylus species and cultivars.