protecting against or simply betting on a fall in the market.
Implied volatility on the euro zone index - a crude barometer of investor risk aversion, based on how much people are willing to pay for options - surged 21.5 percent to new 2013 highs, though at 25.90 points it was still some way below last year's peak of 38.31 points.
Investors also sought refuge in sectors which earn most of their profits outside the euro zone and should thus be less affected by any crisis there.
Within those, Simon Maughan, strategist at Olivetree Securities, recommended focusing on stocks which have underperformed so far this year and those which pay dividends.
"If you look at the relative performance of Energy, Basic Resources and some Industrials, they are outperforming markedly," he said. "Hiding out in these sectors, as well as utilities and some telcos, is the way to lose as little money as possible in this latest storm, which has its eye on Italy, but with cross winds throughout Europe and in France in particular."
The STOXX 600 Basic Resources index fell only 0.2 percent, making it one of the best performing sectors.
Analysts said that in the longer term the current sell off could offer an attractive opportunity to snap up cheap European stocks, but cautioned that it may be soon to start buying in - a view that was also backed by technical analysis charts.
"The Italian index has not yet reached an obvious support, it is too early to step back into equities," Valerie Gastaldy, analyst at Day By Day, said in a note.
"The weekly chart of the FTSE MIB shows that the index is back into its large trading range, between 12,320 and 17,000. When an index breaks out and then reintegrates such a pattern, we can expect it to move back to the middle of the range. This level would be around 14,715."
That would imply a drop of around 5 percent from current levels.