... because of the bad publicity of Gnome 3/Unity ...
An excellent reason to look around. Much has been said about this topic elsewhere, and we need not rehash the arguments for and against Unity in this forum.
But I will say that XFCE is really really nice. I have been using it for a long time (probably 6 years or so), and it is awesome. It gets better with every point release. It is lightweight and very fast, but it has just enough eye candy to make your desktop look smooth and beautiful. The thing I like best is that is can be radically customized. You can put panels anywhere you want and make them behave however you like them to. You can have a Windows-like interface, or a Gnome2-like interface, or a Unity-like interface, or any other classic style, or you can easily design your own interface style.
Fluxbox and LXDE are also light and fast, but I think they lack the beauty and easy customizability of XFCE.