Phyteuma globulariifolium is a high alpine plant species growing in the European Alps and the Pyrenees. In order to elucidate its glacial history, 325 individuals from 69 populations were analysed using the amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) technique. A strongly hierarchical phylogeographical pattern was detected: Two major east–west vicariant groups can be separated along a gap in the distributional area. A further subdivision into at least four populational groups is in congruence with presumed peripheral glacial refugia. There is no indication for survival on unglaciated mountain tops (nunataks) in the interior of the Pleistocene ice shield covering the Alps. Our results favour glacial survival in peripheral, unglaciated or not fully glaciated areas. Populations of P. globulariifolium in the Pyrenees are the result of relatively recent long-distance dispersal. Within the Alps, there is strong differentiation among groups of populations, whereas within them the differentiation is weak. This suggests high levels of gene-flow over short to middle distances.